Category Archives: Vol 1 Issue 2

Editorial Statement

I heard a true war story sixth–hand, though I came close to hearing it third–hand.  This is how it came to me: A friend who had recently returned from boot camp – let’s call him Jones – had met someone who had been deployed in Iraq – let’s call him Smith.  Smith was temporarily the boss of a boy that he did not meet, but who went home early with a lost arm and a lost eye.  Smith heard what had happened to the boy when he returned home and met the friend of the boy’s girlfriend’s brother.  She told him the story, and talked about how now the boy did bar tricks with the glass eye.  I’ll bet you five dollars I can lick my eye, he’d say.  They pieced it all together and realized that this was the boy that he had temporarily been the boss of while they were together in Baghdad, and some time later he told Jones who told me.

This worries me: the distance.  This shred of a war story is what I cling to; this one story that I haven’t gotten from the media, but that has come to me in the old way, way of mouth, which seems more natural.  And I don’t think I’m unique in this situation.  As each new storyteller emerges, one step further from the experience, fiction seeps into the tale.  It seems that more weight is placed on the how – on the telling of it – than on the what – the fact that these things actually took place.  But as the story is distanced from the source, the facts recede: the how has little with which to work.  The result is a shoddy story, with some boy’s reality being used as the punch-line.  It disturbs me that pure fiction can sometimes touch me more than such true war stories.  Of course, I gaped at my friend’s story, but even as I gaped, I felt the self-conscious judgment: this is rehearsed, it’s not sincere.

What I want to know is why it can seem so easy to be sincere about what never happened, and yet so difficult to be sincere about what really did happen, what’s happening every day, somewhere in the world – about what matters?  Does fiction hold the world’s stories to a standard that they will never be able to match?  Are words and experience like schoolboys and schoolgirls, always running in different directions, and when they meet are they awkward and shy?  Do they demand two different types of sincerity?  Is it possible to have any idea what it feels like to lose an arm and an eye for your country without lying in the sand, bleeding and alone?

I hope that it is possible to have some idea, that each time we meet another person we don’t simply nod our heads in respect to that which we do not know.  Words can seem at times like trinkets – playthings, but when one gets to turning a phrase for turning a phrase’s sake, it could be worthwhile to recall the tremendous power of the words that we use every day.  They have the power – and the burden – of expressing what we would otherwise be left to experience alone.

— Bob Borek & the editors of Leland

Download “Editorial Statement” as a PDF


Leave a comment

Filed under From the Editors, Vol 1 Issue 2

Draw (3)

— George Xander Morris

Download “Draw (3)” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Artwork, Vol 1 Issue 2

The Death of the Historical Jesus

By Nick Benavides

Being a Christian in the United States today entails more than just having a set of beliefs about God and the afterlife. In many cases church membership implies holding conservative positions on a number of political and social issues including abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, attitudes towards the government, the “war on terror,” and many others. Although there are many churches in the United States which are liberal in their social and political views, the most vocal members of the church are often the most conservative. Known as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” Christians, this group has grown increasingly political in recent years. One need only browse the websites of groups such as the Christian Coalition of America to see that many Christians are no longer satisfied with simply teaching the gospel story and inculcating conventional moral values. Instead, their focus has grown and shifted outward: the Christian community now plays a critical activist role in debates over many social, political and economic issues. No longer voting as individuals but as a powerful collective, the Christian right has indeed become a significant political force, taking “faith based” stances on such issues as abortion, homosexual marriage, and the “war on terror.”

This Christian entrance into the political arena has inevitably engendered conflict with political groups comprised of people who do not share the Christians’ values. Every day the news is filled with reports of passionate conflict between the two groups, leading both sides to lament that the nation has grown increasingly divided both morally and politically. On the one hand, many American’s support for gay marriage and abortion makes the Evangelicals feel that the country is slipping into moral decline. The Reverend Jerry Falwell has warned the Republican Party “if the candidate running for president is not pro-life, pro-family… you’re not going to win” and that “you cannot be a sincere committed born-again believer who takes the Bible seriously and vote for a pro-choice anti-family candidate.” By anti-family, of course, the Reverend Falwell is referring to a pro-gay marriage stance. It is positions like Falwell’s, argued mostly from a commitment to the Bible, that so worry the Christians’ secular counterparts. To those outside the evangelical tradition, it does not make sense to argue for political and social issues based on faith in Jesus and the Bible. Both sides eye the other with a considerable degree of suspicion and constantly question the motivations of their political opponents.

I myself was raised as an evangelical Christian and personally believe that both groups sincerely desire to do the right thing. Unfortunately, there is very little reasonable dialogue which takes place between both parties, so it often seems like a compromise is impossible. Yet it is my conviction that if we together examine the basis for the beliefs held by Evangelicals we can clear up much of the misunderstanding between Christians and non-Christians. For the Evangelicals, what it ultimately comes down to is this: the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead. It is this resurrection that proves to them that Jesus was God and provides the basis for their belief that the Bible is divinely inspired, clear and inerrant in all its teachings. From these teachings flow the evangelical stances on abortion, homosexuality and a host of other political issues. Everything in the evangelical view of the world rests on this one statement: “Jesus is risen.” The objection that secular liberals have to evangelical Christian politics and social mores is thus also grounded in the resurrection of Jesus. They do not believe it occurred and often view those who believe it did with disdain. However, I feel this disdain is itself rooted in a lack of understanding of the significance of the resurrection and what it originally meant. It is clear then that to really have a meaningful discussion about these topics, both sides must first have clear knowledge of what the resurrection was and was not.

I seek to demonstrate that our modern understanding of the resurrection is extremely different from how early Christians viewed the event and from how we should view it now. For them it would have been absurd to say that Jesus was alive and walked out of the tomb. They knew full well that Jesus was really, truly dead. The concept of the resurrection was initially a metaphorical affirmation of the value of the life that Jesus lived and the truth of the faith that he held. Over time, however, the metaphor was transformed into a literal belief with the effect that it is now difficult for Christians to think about the resurrection as meaning anything other than an empty tomb and a physical resurrection. The focus shifted from what happened during Jesus’ life to what happened after his death. Instead of emphasizing the radical acceptance and table fellowship necessary to bring God’s empire to life right now, Christianity today emphasizes the afterlife and adherence to the moral codes necessary to get there. It is these moral codes that form the basis of the Christian’s emphatic condemnation of homosexuality, amongst other things. For the Evangelicals, returning to a traditional understanding of the resurrection does not mean that one has to abandon the Christian faith but rather that one must re-imagine it. For the secular liberals, this view of the resurrection should lead to a greater acceptance of Christianity and respect for the person of Jesus. By positing a re-imagined Christianity which puts more emphasis on Jesus’ radical acceptance of social outcasts and the Empire of God than on Jesus’ death and how to reach heaven, we can come to a place where both parties can sit down and reason effectively with one another.

Beliefs do not spring fully formed from the ground, but rather evolve over time, becoming more and more complex as different layers of interpretation are added on. Noted scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Stephen Patterson and the men and women who participated in the Jesus Seminar have spent years attempting to peel back those layers of interpretation to get at whom Jesus was and what the resurrection really meant. This editorial is deeply indebted to their work and will undertake their task in reverse: starting from Jesus’ life I will chronologically work through the pertinent New Testament texts and demonstrate how the concept of the resurrection evolved over time. It is impossible to understand the meaning of the resurrection without understanding Jesus’ life, so it is with his life that I will begin.

Yeshua, as Jesus was actually called in his day, was a Jewish peasant who lived in the beginning of the first century. He grew up in Galilee, in the northern part of Israel in a multicultural area displaying both Greek and Roman influences. Most of his fellow Jews were poor farmers or craftsman who had had their land expropriated by the Roman Empire. Yeshua’s experience would have been shaped by two powerful social structures: the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel and the Jewish religion’s cleanliness codes.

During Yeshua’s time, Israel was a captive state of the powerful Roman Empire. Roman control was almost total, and during his youth many of Yeshua’s friends and relatives would still have had first or second-hand memories of the Roman legions’ terrifying conquest of the land. The indignity of life in an occupied country hung over the Jews like a weight, reminding them of God’s promise to protect Israel and causing them to look forward to a Messiah who would free them from Roman rule. Roman occupation also brought with it staggering economic change. Jewish peasants had their land expropriated by Roman authorities and were forced to work fields they had once owned for a paltry subsistence wage. For these disenfranchised Jews living on the margins of survival, starvation was a serious and ever-present concern, making the sharing of food a powerful act defining who counted as one’s family.

Although the Jews were starving, the Roman Empire was enjoying the fruits of Caesar the Augustus’ conquests and was exceedingly wealthy. The economic and political structure of the empire was based on a series of pyramidal patron-client relationships radiating out from Rome. Wealthy and powerful patrons in Rome would offer wealth and political favors to their clients in return for loyalty and support for their interests from below. Those clients in turn were patrons for people lower on the social ladder. These relationships extended from Rome into the farthest reaches of the Empire with the Galilean Jews at the very bottom of this hierarchy, with little to give and nothing to gain. To maintain this structure of patron-client relationships the Roman Empire emphasized the values necessary to maintain it: fides, pietas, familia – loyalty, piety, and Roman family values. Patron-client relationships ran mostly through family groups and it was to them that you had to be loyal.

On top of this clearly oppressive economic and political structure, Yeshua and his fellow peasants also had to bear up under an intricate cleanliness code. The religious leaders of his day had expanded upon the laws of Moses, creating a dizzyingly complex system of rules dividing those who were “clean” and Godly from those who were “unclean” and not in a right relationship with God. Although following these codes may have been possible for some of the Jewish elite living in Jerusalem, it was out of the question for the Galilean Jews just barely eking out a living; they simply didn’t have time for such things. As a result, most of Yeshua’s fellows were not only being crushed under the Roman system of patronage but they were also being pushed to the margins of their own people and forced to think of themselves as unacceptable in the eyes of God.

Into this world of oppression Yeshua brought a radical anti-establishment message, proclaiming the arrival of the Empire of God through table fellowship. Yeshua wandered the length and breadth of Israel teaching that the Empire of God that the Jews were so eagerly awaiting had already arrived, if only they would just recognize and accept it. To illustrate this point Yeshua established the tradition of table fellowship, breaking bread with the lowest members of society: prostitutes, Jews who collected taxes for the Romans and others who were ritually unclean. Although today Yeshua’s table fellowships are seen as a rather innocuous act, they were actually revolutionary and seditious, directly attacking the oppressive power structures of Rome and the Jewish religious elite.

By eating with the ritually unclean, Yeshua proclaimed the end of the cleanliness code and of the separation between clean and unclean, social insiders and social outsiders. His table fellowships were a living rebuke to the religious authorities. “And you experts in the law,” Yeshua said, “woe to you, because you load the people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Yeshua’s table fellowships freed the people from the burden of following the complex code and assured them that they were loved and accepted by God. Yet Yeshua did not see himself as breaking from traditional Judaism and he had no intention of founding a new religion. Rather, he saw the Empire of God he proclaimed as fulfilling the ancient promise that the traditional legal code could not deliver on. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” Yeshua told the Pharisees, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 15:17). Where the impossible demands of the law failed to bring about the Empire of God, the radical acceptance of Yeshua’s table fellowships could succeed.

If Yeshua’s message was an affront to the religious authorities, it was viewed by Roman authorities as nothing less than a direct assault on their empire. Remember that many of the Jews at this time were living on the verge of starvation; sharing food was an extremely significant act reserved for members of ones family. By sharing food with prostitutes and the ritually unclean, Yeshua redefined family and created a new community where the outcasts of society would be loved and have a place to belong. This redefinition of family disrupted the patron-client system that maintained the Roman Empire’s control over the people. As Stephen Patterson observed,

Family loyalty was the linchpin of the entire system of patronage that held the empire together. Jesus pulled that pin, creating a new family with new loyalties. Their faith was directed to another empire, another God.

Calling this redefinition of family the “Empire of God” was not merely of theoretical or theological concern. In an empire where the emperor was considered divine and religion and politics were inextricably linked, proclaiming the “Empire of God” was nothing short of proclaiming a revolution.

Yeshua’s revolutionary ministry only lasted about three years until Pontius Pilate ordered him crucified outside of Jerusalem during the Passover Festival at about 32CE. The Jewish religious leaders had accused him of blasphemy and the Romans had accused him of treason. Like many other Jews of his day, Yeshua was executed without fanfare after a meaningless trial. Yeshua ultimately died refusing to deny the same message that he had lived: the present appearance of the Empire of God.

During his life, Yeshua’s message was crystal clear. The Empire of God has arrived; it is up to you to make it a reality. Yeshua was not the point of his own message, he came to spread the Empire of God, not create a Yeshua brand religion. After his death however, things began to get muddied. While the earliest texts relating to Yeshua do not even mention his arrest, trial and execution, later books treat the subject differently. Over time, more and more emphasis gets placed on the resurrection and on achieving salvation in the afterlife. Paul speaks of Yeshua being “awakened” and “exalted” by God, introducing an apocalyptic framework, but does not mention a bodily resurrection. Mark pushes further, mentioning an empty tomb while Matthew, Luke, and John all offer stories of Yeshua’s physical body being seen after his death. If Yeshua’s message while he was alive was the faith he built his life around, why did this evolution in interpretation and emphasis occur?

The earliest known texts treating the life of Yeshua that are the most critical are the Gospel of Thomas and the Q Gospel. The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Egypt in 1945 and is composed of a collection of wisdom sayings attributed to Yeshua. It is dated to around 50CE, before which time it likely circulated orally among different Christian communities. The Gospel of Thomas does not show even the faintest knowledge of the resurrection of Yeshua. Instead it is concerned with showing the way Yeshua re-imagined the world as the Empire of God. It is not apocalyptic in nature and focuses on Yeshua’s message as the point, not Yeshua himself. If the resurrection were truly a critical part of the early Christian faith, one would assume that it would appear in this gospel. Additionally, even if the resurrection occurred but was not an important part of the faith, one would expect it to be an event extraordinary enough to at least warrant passing mention. It is, however, conspicuously absent from this text, leading one to conclude that the earliest Christians did not believe that Yeshua was physically resurrected.

The Q Gospel is a hypothetical text redacted from the common parts of Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. Although no physical text of the Q Gospel exists, there is a strong scholarly consensus that it existed as an oral tradition dating back to about the death of Yeshua. Similar to Thomas, it completely lacks any reference to the resurrection of Yeshua. Again, if the early Christians thought that the resurrection of Yeshua was the point, it is extremely odd that it is not included in this source.

The man who came to be known as the apostle Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee, one of the Jewish religious elites, and a proponent of the cleanliness code. He was so outraged by the Jews who abandoned the cleanliness code in favor of Yeshua’s table fellowships that he traveled the ancient world persecuting the early Christians and dragging them to prison. Eventually, however, Paul was won over the by the Christians’ love for one another and embraced Yeshua’s vision for the Empire of God. Having left behind his religious tradition, Paul had to justify the validity of the movement he had joined. Paul was not merely writing to record history, but to prove a point: That Yeshua’s vision for the world was more valid than the vision of the clean-unclean divide. Additionally, Paul needed to explain why, if Yeshua was on the side of God, he was allowed to be killed by the Romans. The answer that Paul strikes upon is not that Yeshua was physically resurrected but that he was “awakened” and “exalted” by God after his death.

Paul fleshes out his answer in the texts he wrote between 50 and 60 CE by interpreting Yeshua through an apocalyptic framework and situating him in a long line of powerful prophets who had the authority to speak on behalf of God. All the powerful Jewish prophets before Yeshua exhibited a pattern of persecution and vindication in their lives. The prophet would arrive on the scene, speak on behalf of God, be persecuted by wicked men and eventually be vindicated by God. Yet God not vindicate Yeshua while he was alive. To the contrary, Yeshua died an ignominious death as a revolutionary at the hands of the Romans. Paul’s solution to the lack of vindication during Yeshua’s life was to argue that Yeshua was vindicated after his death. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul states that “God greatly exalted [Yeshua], and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2:9). If God exalted Yeshua then his life fits the familiar persecution and vindication framework making him a legitimate prophet and his vision for the world authoritative. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” and that Yeshua appeared to Peter, to the Twelve disciples, more than five hundred Christians, to James and finally to Paul. Although it may appear at first glance that Paul is describing a physical resurrection, it is important to note that the Greek word that gets translated as “raised” is egêrthai, which literally means “awakened.” Yeshua was not physically raised from the dead but was rather “awakened” by God to be “exalted” to God’s right hand. This is an expression of the importance of Yeshua. Similarly, when Paul speaks of Yeshua appearing to people he uses the Greek word apokalupsis which means “to be revealed.” Again, this does not mean that Yeshua physically appeared to Paul, but that Paul realized the truth of Yeshua’s faith.

Apocalypticism views the struggle between good and evil in terms of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. In the Jewish tradition God’s victory over evil is marked by the resurrection of the righteous slain. Paul was very familiar with this manner of thinking, which was popular in his home town of Jerusalem and interpreted Yeshua through this framework. Yeshua’s exaltation to heaven meant that Yeshua was the “first fruits” of the general resurrection anticipated in the apocalyptic framework (I Corinthians 15:20). Since Yeshua was raised to Paradise everyone else who died after him would have that same opportunity. In order to join Yeshua in Paradise and be saved, one did not need to have faith in Jesus but rather accept the faith of Jesus, a critical distinction that is lost on most Christians today due to a poor translation of Romans 3:21-26.

Indeed, Paul over and over again emphasizes the life and faith of Yeshua over and against the death of Yeshua. Later in Romans Paul states that, “if while we were still enemies [with God as a result of the cleanliness code], we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10) Although it may have been Yeshua’s death that reconciled man to God, it was Yeshua’s life and his faith that had the power to save. For Paul, Yeshua himself was not divine, but his faith was. Accepting Yeshua’s faith and not Yeshua himself is what brings one the same exaltation that Yeshua experienced. Finally, as if to drive his point home, Paul later emphasizes that the resurrection of the dead is exclusively spiritual and not physical in nature (I Corinthians 15:42-44).

As Stephen Patterson points out, for Paul, the statement “Yeshua is alive” means that “Yeshua was right.” The faith of Yeshua is the point, not Yeshua himself or what happened to him after his death. Paul’s solution to the problem of how to justify abandoning the cleanliness codes was a brilliant one. By looking back into the Hebrew Scriptures for guidance, Paul interpreted Yeshua’s life in the prophetic and apocalyptic frameworks, theologically justifying Yeshua’s faith. Unfortunately this move opened the door to further interpretive developments that ultimately shifted the focus away from Yeshua’s life and the Empire of God to Yeshua himself, his “physical resurrection” and the afterlife.

Mark is the first Christian author to build upon Paul’s apocalyptic interpretation of Yeshua. Mark wrote his gospel soon after the failed Jewish revolt of 66-70CE that led to the deaths of over 100,000 Jews and the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. For Mark, as for Paul, the task at hand was not merely to record history, but to provide a justification for remaining faithful to Yeshua’s message in the face of lethal oppression. Mark achieves this goal by reading an apocalyptic narrative into Yeshua’s life, having Yeshua predict the destruction of the temple, and by ending his gospel with an image of Yeshua’s empty tomb: the obvious implication of which is that Yeshua physically rose from the dead (Mark 13, Mark 16).

Mark should not necessarily be condemned for his embellishment of Yeshua’s life; he merely did what he thought was necessary to hold together the young movement built on Yeshua’s faith. Believing that Yeshua had the power to read the future and predict the temple’s destruction made it easier to accept the reassuring promise of a quickly approaching apocalypse that Mark placed in Yeshua’s mouth. This apocalyptic belief that God would soon radically break into the world and right injustice likely helped many Christians maintain their faith during those trying times.

Mark was too subtle to resort to presenting Yeshua’s physically resurrected body to the reader, but his depiction of the empty tomb hinted that Yeshua was physically risen. This depiction of the tomb was originally intended to underscore Mark’s main point that Yeshua was the Messiah and that his faith was true. Later, extra material was added on to the Gospel of Mark that did have Yeshua physically appear after his death. These scenes however, were not part of Mark’s personal composition but were added to bring Mark “up to speed” with the later Gospels which did depict Yeshua as physically resurrected.

Although Mark’s version of Yeshua’s life significantly alters what likely happened, the subsequent Gospel writers are the ones who get truly carried away. When Matthew and Luke pen their Gospels between 85 and 90 CE the emphasis on Yeshua’s physical resurrection becomes almost overwhelming. Building on Mark’s account, their Gospels have Yeshua physically appearing to numerous people after his death and it is at this point that the focus of Christianity begins to seriously lose its original orientation. More and more Yeshua is being depicted as divine, with his resurrection beginning to overshadow the significance of his faith and way of life.

One story which particularly demonstrates how creative the gospel writers got in their work is an account of a mass resurrection which appears in Matthew. Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that after Yeshua’s resurrection,

“The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city [Jerusalem] and appeared to many people.”

It would be difficult for any modern observer to take this talk of people physically rising from the dead seriously. One could imagine what a stir it would create if hundreds of dead people from the cemeteries of San Francisco rose from their graves and started wandering around on Market Street. The newspapers, radio and TV would be filled with news of the extraordinary event and everyone would have some story to tell about what happened that day. The world would hold its breath and stop to ponder the significance of the resurrections; history would be forever impacted. One would expect a similarly strong reaction in Jerusalem to the resurrections depicted in Matthew, yet this is not what we observe.

If this sort of thing actually happened, it would serve as excellent proof that the faith of Yeshua was worth holding, and that Yeshua was truly something special. Because of this it would make sense for the event to appear in all Christian accounts of the time. Yet none of the other canonical gospels record this event, an extremely puzzling omission if Matthew’s story were literally true. Additionally, an event of this uniquely unusually nature would certainly make it into the Roman annals of history, but neither Flavius Josephus nor Tacitus, Roman historians who do mention Yeshua’s life and his execution, record resurrection of Jesus or the mass resurrection mentioned in Matthew. The lack of corroboration from such critical sources should lead us to believe that Matthew’s story was a fabrication. What should be taken away from this account is not the belief that people physically rose from the dead, but rather the recognition that in a pre-modern society filled with myths and a complex pantheon of gods, such resurrection stories were often told and were readily accepted by the people. The inclusion of such a story in Matthew ultimately serves to underscore the efforts the gospel writers were making to try and justify the faith of Yeshua as being legitimate.

John takes the process begun in Mark and furthered by Matthew and Luke to a whole new level. In John’s Gospel, written around 90CE, Yeshua is completely divine and existed with God before his earthly birth (John 1). The post-resurrection appearances in John are the most vivid and dramatic of all the gospel accounts; at this point they have become the centerpiece of a new faith based on the person of Yeshua and not his message. When Yeshua is arrested his voice alone has the power to cause a large group of Roman soldiers to fall trembling to their knees (John 18). On the cross, Yeshua does not so much die but willfully give up his spirit, in total control until the very end (John 19). It is in John that we truly begin to lose sight of Yeshua’s humanity in favor of a God-man who is in complete control.

Having already passed through the interpretive frameworks of Paul, Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Yeshua that remains when John is through with his Gospel bears only passing resemblance to the Yeshua depicted in Thomas and the Q Gospel. Over the course of a mere 60 years, Yeshua changed from a person just like you or I who risked his life for a vision of God’s Empire to God himself. Yeshua started out as a brave human being but wound up a supremely confident deity. He began as an empowering prophet drawing attention to the willful creation of God’s Empire, but ended as a transcendent being demanding worship and devotion. From a Yeshua who insisted that the focus of our lives should be on others and radical acceptance we get a Yeshua who insists that we focus on and radically accept him as divine and risen from the dead. At this point, one can see that the heart of Yeshua’s message was ultimately lost in the interpretation of his death.

If Yeshua was a human being just like us, we must remember that he had faith in much the same way that we do. Like us, he had no guarantee that he was correct. He believed that the old system of cleanliness codes had been abolished and that the law of love and acceptance trumped the laws of judgment and exclusion. Yeshua’s faith was a radical faith that was going places; it was attempting to include more and more people in that category we call “us,” in the hopes that eventually there would be no more “them.” But at Yeshua’s abrupt death, a transformation occurred. His followers made Christianity not about Yeshua’s faith, but about Yeshua himself. Had the focus been on the faith of Yeshua, instead of faith in Yeshua, Christianity may have continued his project of the loving inclusion of more and more social outcasts. Instead, his faith was cut off where it stopped in favor of faith in him. What was a living, vibrant, and courageously held faith of progressive social activism became one with static dogmas and a redrawn clean/unclean divide. Yeshua was taking a risk with his life, the ultimate risk. He was staking his entire existence upon the belief that God was more interested in us loving each other than in defining who was righteous and who was not, who was going to ascend to heaven and who would be left behind.

For us as it was for Paul, the meaning of “Jesus is alive” should be “Jesus was right.” Restoring the focus of Christianity from Yeshua’s physical resurrection, back to his life and practice of radical acceptance, would make at least some of the disagreements between Christianity and the culture at large disappear. When beliefs about Yeshua’s physical resurrection no longer guarantee the inerrancy of the Bible and the political views derived from it, Evangelicals would be more open to new and different political stances. Christianity could become an Empire of God where homosexuals, ex-convicts, homeless people and others who are “ritually unclean” would be welcome as equals at the table of fellowship. Yet even if modern Christians reject this view and a subsequent return to the roots of Christianity, this examination of the resurrection should draw attention to the humanly constructed nature of the Bible. Paul and his counterparts were interpreting the life of Yeshua, doing their best but ultimately making it up as they went along. Understanding this should offer Christians the freedom to reconsider the exclusionary doctrines in Christianity that reconstruct the ancient clean-unclean divide that Yeshua worked so hard to tear down. It is up to us to continue the heroic task of interpreting Yeshua’s life and faith that Paul began.

Yet lest this essay seems to be demanding compromise only from the Evangelicals, I have a hope for the secular liberals as well. Those of us who do not find religion a useful way to find meaning in our lives must learn how to dialogue respectfully with those who do. We too must understand the difference between the person of Yeshua and the message now preached in his name. There are many valuable lessons we can learn from his life and teachings, and we should not reject religion outright simply because it has at times gone astray from its noble ideals. The insensitive polemics of Richard Dawkins and others like him will not help to further the cause of human solidarity. We must learn to understand and respect Christianity, arguing our points respectfully, effectively and without derision. In the end, armed with improved knowledge about the resurrection, Christians and secular liberals alike should feel free to develop new views on divisive sociopolitical issues such as homosexuality that will further the radical acceptance Yeshua preached as the Empire of God.

Download “The Death of the Historical Jesus” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Vol 1 Issue 2


If you ever leave him, this room will still know him
like you did not leave him. In the gold bowl

plums hard with wanting, apples ready,
stems poised, to spring outward. As if nothing

could bear itself, objects sickened by their forms.
The wall aching where a thrown glass once

burst like a star, the mirror heavy with your
swollen face. Until he wakes, you touch yourself

and think of vomiting: you could bend over,
cheek near the carpet, coughing, sweet for hours.

— Shamala Gallagher

Download “Aubade” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Vol 1 Issue 2

Photo (8)

— Mae Ryan

Download “Photo (8)” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Vol 1 Issue 2

Family Photograph, Thanksgiving 2005

You, in your football sweatshirt and your hair
cropped so short that after months of having watched it flow into your eyes
our grandfather says that you look like a Buddha-monk,

gazing down at the table with your hands in your pockets,
your wide-mouthed grin holding no more traces of the
brackets gone at last from a jawbone still too large –

smirking down at the Thanksgiving turkey,
though this year at your insistence it is a turducken:
chicken inside a duck inside a turkey,

that our father and grandmother got up at six a.m. to stuff,
the pater (so you call him) shaking his head while he measured out
four cups of salt, one of sugar to brine the meat, stirred gently

and left to soak overnight for best flavor while
the mater shook her head to leave you alone.
It is your last Thanksgiving before

you are to leave behind your library book sale novels, your
collection of unlabeled CD’s, your guitar with the sour top string
that you never would tune though I cringed each time

you picked out Metallica on a failing upper note,
and the one perfect hole punched, round, in the dining room wall
from the time you leaned just an inch too far back in your chair.

When it was my turn I wanted dinner the way it always was:
standard American turkey and bubbling pots of Chinese broth,
But you, with your turducken,

declared a coup in mid-October, and our parents
could do nothing but nod, and follow along grumbling,
because after all, when you left,

who would clear our grandfather’s bowl from the table in the evenings,
turn the house upside down to find a sheet the right color
for a movie backdrop, fill the hard drive with music that nobody listened to,

or the desktop with spyware that blocked the internet for a month,
and absently swing the grocery bag containing birthday cake
around your knees so that after dinner we had to wipe the spattered icing

from the inside of the box? While the noise of guests thickens
about your skull-smooth fuzz and the steam scrolls up to the windows
behind you, you press your thoughts towards the game, and how you stood

with one hand snuggled tight to the helmet, hoping to ignore the band
that droned laboriously on behind, because you could not turn,
lest the shrill of a piccolo cased one year in dust draw you back again

into the shadow of the sister who watches you now: little brother,
grown up, smirking down at the brown-gray layers of fowl
with all the triumph in the world.

— Iris Law

Download “Family Photograph, Thanksgiving 2005” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Vol 1 Issue 2

Illustration From the Emperor’s New Clothes

— Kellie Brownell and Killeen Hanson

Download “Illustration From the Emperor’s New Clothes” as a PDF

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Vol 1 Issue 2