Easter is past, but the last few days have seen much talk online and on TV about Jesus. We saw some of that here on PoliticusUSA, talking about Republican hypocrisy in general and that of Ted Cruz specifically. There was also CNN’s “Finding Jesus: Fact. Faith. Forgery,” and Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus” on Fox News, and NBC’s “A.D.: The Bible Continues” on Easter Sunday.
Ted Cruz advertised on both the latter. But not on CNN. You don’t run on a Jesus platform and then advertise on a show that actually asks questions about Jesus. There are many reasons for this, a couple of which I will examine here. The example of the GOP’s anti-Jesus treatment of the poor is well known, so let’s look at women.
Michael McKinley and David Gibson wrote on CNN Saturday to ask the question, “Who bankrolled Christ’s ministry?” It is a good question, one which has been asked before. We can only speculate of course, but money was important to Jesus. You don’t travel all over Judaea without food, drink, and a place to rest your head.
And indeed, as the authors point out,
Clearly, money was a concern, and not just as an impediment to salvation. In the New Testament, money gets 37 mentions, while “gold” gets 38 citations, “silver” merits 20, and “copper” four. “Coin” comes up eight times, and “purse” and “denarii” — the Roman currency — get half a dozen mentions each for a total of 119 currency referrals.
Abortion, of course, gets 0 mentions, and gay marriage…well, that also gets 0. But there is a lot of money, and a lot of women, in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry.
Two things really jumped out at me in reading this article, and that was that 1) Money was important to Jesus’ ministry, and that 2) Women were important to Jesus’ ministry. And you can add a third thing: without the second thing, there is no first thing. In other words, as often as money is mentioned, women come first in importance.
Leave aside the debate over whether Jesus was married. Without money and women, Jesus’ ministry would have been impossible. But the supposed party of Jesus – the GOP – wants to take the money and run.
If, as the authors speculate, the women in Jesus’ life – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna among them – were some of those “who made his mission viable,” then it is safe to say that without these women of means, the message of Jesus would not be be with us today to be twisted by Republican Evangelicals into a message of repression against women.
And actually, the support of women did not end there, as wealthy women were incredibly important to the growth and spread of Christianity even into the later empire. The late second-century Pagan critic Celsus condemns Christians for deluding susceptible women for their support.
In Jesus’ case, as in Paul of Tarsus’ later, these women were not only a source of money but part of his actual ministry, and we know that missionary couples dominated the early Christian scene. We know, for example, that Peter was married, and in Matthew 8:14 we find Jesus tending to his mother-in-law, who is in bed with a fever. We know Peter’s wife stayed home when Peter left to follow Jesus (Mark 1:22) but that after Jesus’ death she stayed with Peter in his travels (1 Corinthians 9:5). In fact, in that passage, Paul tells us of Jesus’ disciples that all their wives traveled with their husbands.
And though there is no evidence for this, some Christians believe that both Peter and his wife were captured by Nero and put to death some thirty years after Jesus.
What is interesting today is that money is no longer an essential thing for spreading a gospel that, in large part, is a gospel against extreme wealth, but rather, money itself has since become the heart of that gospel. Rather than condemning wealth, the Religious Right makes it holy. And you no longer have to give it “unto Caesar” as Jesus demands in Mark 12:17.
If the Religious Right cherry picks the Old Testament to make it all about gay sex, the New Testament is no less cherry-picked. America was never attacked by terrorists on George W. Bush’s watch by God, and Jesus never said word one about rich people not being able to enter paradise.
White-washing history has become not just a cottage industry on the Religious Right. Even an assembly line cannot keep up with the current demand to re-purpose the past to be more congenial to the needs of the present.
Early Christian apologists, as they struggled to keep up with Pagan critics poking holes in their doctrines, had no idea what they were missing.
If wealth has become an obsession, and more important than ever, women, who were so important in the beginning, have been relegated to the status of sexual playthings with no rights to control their own reproductive functions, who should just stay home and keep their mouths shut.
Jesus valued women and saw the need for money. Republicans value money and see little need for women beyond the need for sex – and then slut-shame them if they want to engage in it.
Jesus didn’t slut-shame women. He didn’t hold up a shushing finger to Mary Magdalene. When another Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil at the house of Lazarus, Jesus did not condemn her.
And Jesus did not “mansplain” to the women in his life – to Mary or to any other woman. He apparently treated them as important partners in his ministry and valued their presence.
There is another episode from that visit with Lazarus that shows us how much has changed among the alleged followers of Jesus.
Judas Iscariot did not like that expensive oil was being used by Mary. He said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
Can you imagine a Republican asking that question today?
Republican Jesus would fall over laughing.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.