More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity

Monday, I disputed the notion that Thomas Jefferson was an evangelical Christian who hoped to evangelize Native Americans with his edited version of the New Testament. There I provided evidence that Jefferson was not a Christian in the evangelical sense. Here is additional evidence that Jefferson was not the Christian portrayed by David Barton and other revisionists of Jefferson’s beliefs.

First in a April 11, 1823 letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god!

No love for Calvinists there. Then, in the same letter, he wrote regarding the virgin birth:

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

The virgin birth a fable?

In an April 13, 1820 letter to William Short, Jefferson left no doubt what he thought of the Apostle Paul:

But while this Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it’s true and high light, as no imposter himself but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist, he takes the side of spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin. I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it &c. &c. It is the innocence of his character, the purity & sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcations, the beauty of the apologias in which he conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes indeed needing indulgence to Eastern hyperbolism. My eulogies too may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I seperate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and disent.

To Jefferson, then, much of the New Testament is falsehoods, made up about Jesus, rendering Him unrecognizable.

Then in another letter to Short, dated October 31, 1819, Jefferson wrote:

But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man; outlines which it is lamentable he did not live to fill up. Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems,* invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning. It would in time, it is to be hoped, effect a quiet euthanasia of the heresies of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally and deeply afflicted mankind; but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of his life.

* e. g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy.

Note what Jefferson considered to be “artificial systems.” There is not much left for what evangelicals would consider a Christian. Imagine now if a social conservative GOP candidate called the miraculous aspects of Christianity, “rubbish.” And yet, David Barton and by extension Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich promote this revisionism regarding Jefferson.

There are other quotes I have seen, now having reviewed most of the letters between Jefferson and John Adams. Both men seem to believe there was a creator god which via some intelligence plays a role in the affairs of men, but they, most clearly Jefferson, would not be comfortable religiously at evangelical churches today.

Postscript: Thomas Jefferson was born on today’s date, April 13, 1743.

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    Well, I was sympathetic to the Calvinism quote… but, then you went on….

  • http://exgaywatch.com David Roberts

    Yeah, I’m flying with Jefferson on the first quote. Down with TULIPs.

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Too bad Jefferson didn’t read the Talmud or the Mishneh, or study with the rabbis here in Philadelphia, in the nation’s oldest synagogue. He probably would have taken kindly to progressive Judaism, the greatest reformer of that “depraved religion.”

    Much of what he espouses, I indeed espouse – and I’m hardly an anomaly in the faith.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Too bad Jefferson didn’t read the Talmud or the Mishneh

    Quite apart from the fact that reading the Talmud and Mishneh might have given Jefferson a better appreciation for the “depraved religion” of Judaism, it might have also given him pause in dismissing the “ignorance, untruth, and charlatanism” in the teachings of Jesus that TJ assumes to be later interpolations.

    By which I mean that Jesus came from a Jewish tradition that frequently used hyperbole and figurative language for illustrative purposes, and that Jesus’s remarks about commanding a tree to uproot itself and walk around, and his advice to pluck out thine own eye if it offends thee, should be understood within this tradition of rhetorical exaggeration.

    Incidentally, a Jewish friend once quoted to me a story from the Talmud that ends with the “punchline” in which God falls down laughing and says “My own children [meaning, the Jews] have outwitted me!”

    I suspect a lot of Christians would find it shocking and presumptuous that the rabbis would have made up a story in which God says that the Jews are smarter than He is! However, there is an ironic element in God’s comment about being “outwitted,” and the point of the “made-up story” is, in fact, to illustrate how sublime God’s wisdom is.

  • Richard Willmer

    A little joke:-

    Q: What is the difference between a religious fundamentalist and God?

    A: God does not think he is a religious fundamentalist.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Emily K. may know the details of that story better than I do, but basically what happened is that a bunch of rabbis were arguing over some point of Torah law, and one of them said, “May God send a miracle to prove that *my* interpretation is correct!”

    At which point the very stones of the walls started dancing around and singing, “Yes, this rabbi’s interpretation is the correct one.”

    But in response, the other rabbis retorted, “Never mind the tapdancing, singing walls — God told us at Sinai that the majority opinion rules!”

    And this was why God laughed and said that He’d been “outwitted” — He was pleased that the rabbis had not been taken in by His flashy miracle, and had instead deferred to the laws previously given at Mt. Sinai. (That is, the rabbis were wrong, but they were wrong for the right reason.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    My other favorite quote from the Talmud (and I emphasize again that I haven’t personally studied the Talmud myself, but am only relying on what has been quoted to me by Jews) is this one:

    And God said, “Would that my children even forget my Name, so long as they at least remember my Laws!”

    This was quoted to me as a retort/rebuke when I had offered the familiar atheist challenge “If God is so super-duper, why does he care whether we worship him or not?”

    Homer Simpson’s response was funnier (“God is all-powerful, yet insecure, kinda like Barbra Streisand before James Brolin came along”), but the Talmudic answer is serious and sublime — amplifying Isaiah 1:11-18, that if people behave unjustly, then the outward manifestations of worship have very little worth.

  • Emily K

    Incidentally, a Jewish friend once quoted to me a story from the Talmud that ends with the “punchline” in which God falls down laughing and says “My own children [meaning, the Jews] have outwitted me!”

    Yes, I am well aware of that story.

    Much of what makes “Jewish Humor” what it is today comes from the Rabbinical tradition of addressing the absurd.

    Here’s another joke, in the style of Talmudic interpretation and not from the Talmud in reality:

    A man goes to a rabbi and says, “rabbi, I must fly this shabbos. I know traveling on shabbos is prohibited but I must attend a very important event and have no other choice. Is there a way I can fly without breaking the law?”

    The rabbi thinks for a moment and says, “yes, you can fly. but you must make sure that you have your seatbelt on the entire time.”

    “Why does that matter?”

    “Because if you’re just sitting in the seat, you’re taking a plane ride. But if your seatbelt is on, you’re wearing the plane.”

  • Gene Chase

    Jefferson, would not be comfortable religiously at evangelical churches today

    Most Christians from throughout history would not be comfortable with the breezy way in which evangelical churches today treat God as a buddy instead of in holy awe.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    “Because if you’re just sitting in the seat, you’re taking a plane ride. But if your seatbelt is on, you’re wearing the plane.”

    LOL, Emily!

    Then there’s the entire sub-genre of “Gentile Jokes” in Jewish humor — which are noteworthy because Gentiles are only ostensibly the butt of the humor, and the jokes are in fact self-deprecating gags told by Jews about Jewish stereotypes, e.g.:

    A Gentile man phones his mother: “Hi, Mom — I know that I promised to come over to your place for dinner this evening, but my buddy at work got some free tickets to the hockey game and invited me to come with him.”

    The Gentile mother says: “Okay, dear, have a nice time!”

    Or:

    A Gentile is in an upscale clothing store. “How much for that jacket?,” he asks.

    “$500,” the salesman says.

    The Gentile says, “OK, I’ll take it.”

    (The person who told me the second joke explained that the self-deprecating humor here is not that “We Jews are tight with money” but that “We Jews have a compulsive need to turn everything into a debate” — thus, both of the above jokes are playing on the same stereotype.)

  • Emily K

    the Talmudic answer is serious and sublime — amplifying Isaiah 1:11-18, that if people behave unjustly, then the outward manifestations of worship have very little worth.

    The Talmud is clear on this. And Jesus says the same thing – but accuses “The Pharisees” and “The Jews” of this hypocrisy. So it’s assumed by Gentiles that Jews only later on somehow “got it right” but rejected Jesus because his message was “too revolutionary.”

    puh-LEAZE.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Jefferson’s views might be receptive to the observation that some Christians prefer a Jesus they can worship to a Jesus whose teachings they should follow.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Emily,

    I know that it bothers you – and for good reason – when Pharisees are disparaged by Christians.

    But perhaps it helps to recognize that when Christians speak of “Pharisees”, they are not talking about the sect of Jews. Rather, they envision the word to mean “those people (Jews in this case) which put adherence to law over decency and goodness and who were threatened by Jesus’ teachings.” It is not a rejection of the real teachings of the real Pharisees – Christians for the most part have no idea what those teachings were.

    And when a Christian says that someone is being a Pharisee, they are not referencing the real Jewish sect, but saying that they have the attributes of those people who challenged Jesus in the Christian writings.

    It’s a bit like being angry at the unfair treatment that reindeer receive every December. Yeah there is a real group that has characteristics far different from the ones which are being portrayed, but it isn’t really about them. And if you focus on correcting the historical facts, then you aren’t understanding what they are saying.

    Also… perhaps, just perhaps, it is more effective to say “yeah, we Jews believe that too. Where do you think that Jesus the Jew got the idea? nudge-nudge wink-wink”

    If you insist, “no, no, we thought of it first! Jesus was a copycat” it can create a conflict from what should be a place of agreement. Can we not be happy that a number of Jewish notions – including the Golden Rule – are now part of the faith of a third of humanity, regardless of whether Hilel is more important for saying it first or whether Jesus is more important because his followers spread it to non-Jews?

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Touching on that…

    Could we not say that Jesus was the first Evangelical Jew?

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Sure, Tim, and when people say “that’s so gay” they mean “gay” as in “stupid,” not “gay” as in “homo.” And if you really don’t think there’s anything analogous there, then I’m not going to try to explain it further.

    Christians look at their gospels and see them as history books – or at least, windows in time to previous peoples. Too many times Christians have said, “Jesus was turning Judaism upside down. He was a revolutionary.” But this notion, while romantic, is absolutely false. He would have had no more “revolutionary” a place among 1st century Jerusalem than any other sectarian. Even Shammai and Hillel, BOTH Pharisees, had sharp disagreements theologically, to the point of fostering separate schools of thought.

    Western civilization is built upon triumphalism – covenant theology – whether one realizes it or not. I’d be a lot kinder in my comparisons if I weren’t surrounded by such utter ignorance most of the time.

    You get tired of kindly trying to explain.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Could we not say that Jesus was the first Evangelical Jew?

    Actually, no, since the Pharisees were already “evangelizing” long before Jesus was born — as Jesus himself acknowledges in Matt. 23:15 ! Although, mind you, he says that the Pharisees were doing a sloppy-ass job of it:

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

    In plain language, the accusation here is that the Pharisaic Jews were expending a great deal of proactive effort to win converts to Judaism from among the pagans, but evidently their focus was on the quantity of converts, not on the quality of individual conversions — so they ended up with a bunch of “new Jews” who had the stereotypical hotheaded zeal of fresh converts, but with a very poor understanding of the Torah.

    From Googling, I get the impression that Jewish proselytizing of Gentiles was definitely going on in the late Second Temple Period (like, say, 200 BC – 70 AD), but there is scholarly disagreement about how common it actually was. So it may be that Jesus was exaggerating a bit when he said that the Pharisees were so eager to get converts that they would travel over land and sea to do it.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    The parallels are not exact – in fact I’m straining a bit.

    But…

    Sadducees = Vatican Hierarchy,

    Pharisees = Southern Baptist Fundamentalists, and

    Samaritans = Jews

    is a mapping that works for some purposes.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Zoe — bear in mind that neither “Sadducee” nor “Pharisee” was a rank or title of office, such as “Doctor” or “Senator” or “Priest” or “Bishop,” etc. — rather, they were denominational terms, like “Presbyterian” or “Catholic” or “Greek Orthodox,” etc.

    Thus, trying to map “Sadducee” onto “Vatican Hierarchy” is problematic because there were in fact Sadducees who belonged to the “laity,” and were not in any sense members of a “clergy” caste.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Emily,

    Sure, Tim, and when people say “that’s so gay” they mean “gay” as in “stupid,” not “gay” as in “homo.” And if you really don’t think there’s anything analogous there, then I’m not going to try to explain it further.

    I think that we agree that “that’s so gay” has an impact on real living breathing gay kids today.

    I was under the impression that there are no Pharisees that so identify today. Am I mistaken? Are there kids out there who identify as Pharisees?

    If so then you have a valid point, one which I would be glad to help address. But, if not, then your objection comes across as anger looking for a cause.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    I was under the impression that there are no Pharisees that so identify today. Am I mistaken? Are there kids out there who identify as Pharisees?

    While “Pharisee” is an obsolete term, Jews today see themselves as descending in an unbroken tradition from the Pharisees — that is, there’s no sharp break distinguishing “Pharisaic Judaism” from “rabbinical Judaism”. Thus, even though Jewish kids today don’t call themselves “Pharisees,” if they have any religious education at all, they’re going to be aware that they have a strong historic link with the Pharisees who are repeatedly disparaged in the Christian NT, but not so much with the Sadducees (who are also disparaged in the NT, but much less so).

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Also, the disparaging of “the Pharisees” by the Gospel authors occurs in the context of this:

    When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the [Jewish] crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:24-25)

    And this:

    But the chief priests [of the Jews] stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 11-15)

    And this:

    Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. (Luke 23:20-24)

    And this:

    As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” [...] From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:6,12)

    I make a point of quoting all four Gospels because, by way of contrast, the rather remarkable and noteworthy point that Mary was a virgin and Jesus had no human father managed to totally escape the attention of Mark and John (and there were various other miracles that are described in only one or two Gospels, but were not unanimously attested).

    And yet, all four Evangelists took pains to remind the readers that Pontius Pilate really, really, really didn’t want to execute Jesus, and ultimately did so only because the Jewish crowd badgered him into it!

    Now, it’s possible that Pontius Pilate truly was Mr. Nicey-Nice and teh awful Jews made him do what he did, and thus the four Gospelists were reporting a historic fact. However, the ancient Jewish writers Philo and Josephus portray Pilate as a heavy-handed governor who was often insensitive to Jewish customs and who ultimately had to be recalled by Rome because of his excessive harshness.

    So I would propose the alternative hypothesis that Pontius Pilate was perfectly happy to execute Jesus for the tiniest suspicion of sedition against the Emperor, and did so — but in the ensuing decades, the Gospelists totally made up all that jive about Pilate killing Jesus very reluctantly, at the instigation of a bloodthirsty Jewish mob.

    And they made it up partly because, as Messianic Jews, they were resentful towards the mainstream Jews who’d rejected their putative Messiah Jesus, and who had sometimes harassed and scorned the “heretical” Jesus-believers.

    But after the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman suppression of Jewish rebellions, members of the new Messiah Jesus sect of Judaism no longer had anything to fear from mainstream Jews — while at the same time, they had good reason to curry favor with the powerful Romans.

    Initially, shifting the blame from Pilate to “the Jews” was a relatively harmless fib, and not in any way “anti-Semitic” or “Judeophobic” since so many early Christians still considered themselves to be Jews, and Paul overtly calls himself “a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees” in Acts 23:6!

    But as centuries passed, Christians at some point ceased thinking of themselves as “a type of Jew.” Yet the accusations against Jews, and against Pharisees, remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    While “Pharisee” is an obsolete term, Jews today see themselves as descending in an unbroken tradition from the Pharisees — that is, there’s no sharp break distinguishing “Pharisaic Judaism” from “rabbinical Judaism”. Thus, even though Jewish kids today don’t call themselves “Pharisees,” if they have any religious education at all, they’re going to be aware that they have a strong historic link with the Pharisees who are repeatedly disparaged in the Christian NT, but not so much with the Sadducees (who are also disparaged in the NT, but much less so).

    So, in other words, no the analogy doesn’t apply.

    I didn’t think so.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Yet the accusations against Jews, and against Pharisees, remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.

    No. Don’t play games.

    “Yet the accusations against Jews remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.” is a valid statement.

    “Yet the accusations against Pharisees remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.”

    is nonsensical.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Wow, i mess that up.. let me try again:

    Yet the accusations against Jews, and against Pharisees, remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.

    No. Don’t play games.

    “Yet the accusations against Jews remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.” is a valid statement.

    “Yet the accusations against Pharisees remained in the Christian NT — and we all know what the historic results were.” is nonsensical.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    So, in other words, no the analogy doesn’t apply.

    JTFC*, Tim, how many times have gay people drawn on analogies (in some cases, rather strained analogies) with Jim Crow or the Nuremburg Laws or Loving v. Virginia in order to illustrate a moral point about homophobic legislation?

    But then Emily K. wants to say that the repeated disparaging of Pharisees in the NT is just a bit analogous to that’s so gay, and you’re all like: “No-no-no, Emily, YOU CAN’T HAVE that analogy! There’s no valid comparison! Think of the suffering gay chiiiiildren!”

    Sheesh.

    * © Team America: World Police

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    I don’t see why you call it “nonsensical,” Timothy — are you saying that historically, Christians never conflated “Pharisees” with “the Jews who rejected and killed Jesus”?

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    By the way, as long as we’re talking about the misdeeds of the Pharisees, there’s THIS priceless incident reported in one version of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:

    And when Jesus was five years old, there fell a great rain upon the earth, and the boy Jesus walked up and down through it. And there was a terrible rain, and He collected it into a fish-pond, and ordered it by His word to become clear. And immediately it became so. Again He took of the clay which was of that fish-pond, and made of it to the number of twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when Jesus did this among the boys of the Jews. And the boys of the Jews went away, and said to Joseph His father: Behold, your son was playing along with us, and he took clay and made sparrows, which it was not lawful to do on the Sabbath; and he has broken it. And Joseph went away to the boy Jesus, and said to Him: Why have you done this, which it was not lawful to do on the Sabbath? And Jesus opened His hands, and ordered the sparrows, saying: Go up into the air, and fly; nobody shall kill you. And they flew, and began to cry out, and praise God Almighty. And the Jews seeing what had happened, wondered, and went away and told the miracles which Jesus had done. But a Pharisee who was with Jesus took an olive branch, and began to let the water out of the fountain which Jesus had made. And when Jesus saw this, He said to him in a rage: Thou impious and ignorant Sodomite, what harm have my works the fountains of water done you? Behold, you shall become like a dry tree, having neither roots, nor leaves, nor fruit. And immediately [the young Pharisee] dried up, and fell to the ground, and died. And his parents took him away dead

    Note that in other versions of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the little boy who uses a tree branch to break Jesus’s clay fish-pond or fountain is “the son of a scribe”, rather than being identified as a “Pharisee.”

    (I am fascinated by these non-canonical “Infancy Gospels,” some of which date all the way back to the 2nd century AD, and which portray the very young Jesus as a rather terrifying child prodigy who reminds you of The Village of the Damned, or that kid from the Twilight Zone who would wish people into the cornfield!)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Addendum: In the Infancy Gospels, the very young Jesus eventually kills at least a half-dozen people just for annoying him — so he achieves a body count on a par with Freddy Kreuger or Jason Vorhees, on a per-movie basis.

    However, unlike Freddy and Jason, the child Jesus later regrets his actions and miraculously reverses his horrific murder spree, so apparently all of the people he shriveled up with his supernatural powers are restored to life.

    For which reason, I tend to assume that these episodes were understood by early Christians as being parables about the importance of tempering power with the wisdom that maturity brings. (That is, even the Son of God misused his abilities when he was very young and didn’t know better.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Anyway, the important thing to understand about these Infancy Gospels is that although they may present a “heretical” picture of Jesus, they weren’t invented by enemies of Christianity who wanted to discredit Jesus — rather, they were circulated among (some) pious Christians, and thus they were an expression of love for Jesus, however unflattering the portrait may seem today.

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Timothy, Throbert explained it perfectly. We are no longer called “Pharisees” but that is because the sect simply changed names from Perushim (which is the Hebrew word meaning “set apart”) to simply, “Jewish” or “Rabbinnical Jew” – terms referring to those of Judean lineage. Not everyone who is “Jewish” today is technically from Judean lineage – but technically we are all “Israelites,” for we all descended from the House of Jacob (Israel), per my understanding.

    To put it another way:

    From roughly the 15th century up until about 60 years ago the proper term for a person of African descent was “Negro.” This is now largely seen as an out-dated term, though not necessarily offensive depending on context, and certainly not the same as “n*****.” Dr. King described his own race as “negro” in his most famous speech. But the “proper” term for a person of African descent today is “Black.” Still, if you say disparaging things about “Negros,” you are also doing so to “Blacks.” Same with “Pharisee.”

    I think I’ve explained this on your site before. I’ve provided this article as a good explanation. Why you can’t see this connection is absolutely baffling, but then another example of how a fairly intelligent, well-meaning, and politically aware Christian is still absolutely ignorant of the effects of their own traditions.

    Is it any wonder I get angry about this sort of thing?

    And so, even after two people have given you about the same explanation, you still stubbornly refuse to see how it could be hurtful. You glibly say, “Didn’t think so.” But I guess as long as you feel like Throbert and I are being oversensitive and irrational you can conversely feel like a superior rational mind.

    Congratulations.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Throbert,

    Sorry. I am not a stand in for every gay person from whom you want to distinguish yourself. You’re an intelligent and informed guy and I enjoy it when you have something interesting to say. But your forays into “I’m not like those leftist gays who are icky” really distracts from it and you may want to consider dropping that schtick.

    Here’s my point:

    Currently, Christians speak about “the Pharisees” and how they were legalistic and unwilling to listen to Jesus. They complain about the Pharisees today.

    But – and this is the important part – they aren’t talking about Jews when they do. When Christians complain about “the Pharisees” or “the money-changers” or whatever, they are applying the biblical stories to their own faith and complaining about other Christians.

    If Christians were railing about the Pharisees to demean Jews – or even as a codeword to disparage Jews – then I would join Emily’s campaign to get that word out of usage. Or if there were Jewish kids who identify as Pharisee, then I would be right there with her.

    But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    And let’s know (cuz it ain’t gunna change) that Christians will refer to the Bible as the basis for their beliefs. And I see three alternatives:

    1. Christians use “Pharisees” to describe attitudes that put rules about people.

    2. Christians use “those Jews that opposed Jesus” to describe that attitude.

    3. Christians don’t criticize the attitude that puts rules above people.

    I’m not much liking 2 or 3. Maybe there’s some other option…. but so far all I hear is “don’t use option 1″

    I really am all for respecting folk. I think you know that. But I don’t do well with demanding that zero options are acceptable.

    If there is a pragmatic solution, I’m good with that. But if this is an exercise in futility, then there is no outcome that’s going to make anyone happy.

    Emily,

    Again with the “you disagree with me so you must be….” thing. Give it a rest.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    The infancy gospels – like the gnostic and other eliminated gospels and other early writings are fascinating.

    When you consider that there were divisions of the faith that firmly held to the inerrancy of these texts – until they were voted to be heretical – it does call Christians (like me) to consider how one comes to believe what one believes.

  • Emily K

    How about this for a solution: Don’t use the term Pharisee. Christians might feel uncomfortable that words they’ve used traditionally are actually offensive to large groups of people.

    Too bad. the truth is sometimes uncomfortable. The fact is, “the Pharisees” in the christian writings are seen as THE historical record of Judaism at that time. Jesus is seen (errently) as the original religious revolutionary; that many Jews in general and Pharisees specifically weren’t already living a faith that was quite loving and forgiving.

    If there were Jewish books that referred to “the Paulines” (as in, adherents of Paul’s doctrines regarding christianity) as hypocritical, narrow-minded “snakes in the grass,” I would be just as opposed.

    It’s the same as “that’s so gay,” it’s the same as saying “negroes are inferior to whites.”

    It doesn’t matter if anyone identifies using the word Pharisee today. it’s another word for Rabbinical Jew, which is what today 99% of Jews are. It’s the same group of people.

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