Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hate: verb, to dislike intensely or passionately

As you may know, the Jesus Seminar was a late 20th century quest for the historical Jesus. Among other things, the biblical scholars who participated in the Seminar sifted through the canonical and extracanonical gospels (e.g., Gospel of Thomas), discussed, and then voted on which passages are and are not attributable to the historical Jesus. The results of that were published in The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Harper San Francisco, 1993), a work that documents all the words that the gospel writers attributed to Jesus (including those in the Gospel of Thomas--from the Nag Hammadi find) and rated according to how the Fellows voted on them.

The Fellows voted by dropping colored beads into a ballot box. A vote of red meant the Fellow concluded that "Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it." Pink corresponded to "Jesus probably said something like it." Gray signified "Jesus did not say this but the ideas contained in it are close to his own." And black meant that in the Fellow's judgment "Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition." Each color also had a corresponding numerical value: red = 3, pink = 2, gray = 1, black = 0. After voting on a particular Jesus saying, the points were added up and the weighted average computed. The result was then reconverted to a color code. This then was the final* color rating a particular saying received. (The Five Gospels, p. 36)

The Seminar also produced an entirely new translation of the gospels known as the Scholar's Version. One of the goals of the team of translators was to produce a translation that would come as close as possible to late 20th century English, but of course remaining true to the spirit of the original. While definitely sounding contemporary, this translation is reliable because it is based on ancient languages (Greek, Coptic, etc.), i.e., the SV uses ancient sources--extant texts as historically close to the originals as possible--as its basis.

With that background take a look at Luke 14:26, the following translation taken from the Scholar's Version.

If any come to me and do not hate their own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--they cannot be my disciples (ibid., 353).

This saying garnered a pink from the Seminar. This means that it probably is quite close to what the historical Jesus had uttered.

That's point number one. The more important thing I'd like to underscore is Jesus' use of the word hate, a word which also appears in other translations of this particular passage (e.g. the Net Bible). Here's the Seminar's commentary for this verse:

Hating one's family. This saying, which must have been offensive to Jesus' audience when he first enunciated it, has suffered the fate of other harsh sayings in the tradition. Matthew softens it by making the love of family subordinate to the love of Jesus. But Luke and Thomas retain the rigorous form: hatred of family is a condition of discipleship.

The severity of this saying can only be understood in the context of the primacy of filial relationships. Individuals had no real existence apart from their ties to blood relatives, especially parents. If one did not belong to a family, one had no real social existence. Jesus is therefore confronting the social structures that governed his society at their core. For Jesus, family ties faded into insignificance in relation to God's imperial rule, which he regarded as the fundamental claim on human loyalty. (ibid., 353)

Keep in mind that a majority of the Fellows are versed in Greek and the ancient languages in which the books of the bible were originally written in. When they concur that "hate" is an appropriate (if the not the best) translation then we need not bother entertaining such rationalizations as "hate" is merely figurative or that hating one's family simply means that we should love Jesus/God more. As the Seminar's commentary above already tells us, Matthew had resorted to such blunting of what Jesus actually had meant in order not to scandalize his readers.

So in this saying Jesus instructs those who wish to follow him to hate their parents, spouse, children, even one's own self. Hate them all. Let that sink in for a while.

Julia Sweeney in Letting Go of God aptly points out, "Isn't that what cults do? Get you to reject your family in order to inculcate you?" Jesus doesn't just say, "leave your family and follow me." Even that would already be asking a lot in itself. He goes one step further and orders his followers to hate their immediate family, to dislike them intensely. It is a call for complete dissolution of emotional, psychological, sociological ties to one's roots, loved ones, including progeny. The reason? That the person may devote her entire self, all his energy to the founder of the cult, his ideology and agenda. And to those who may argue that Jesus wasn't directing his followers to himself but rather to God, it escapes them that what/who "God" is is according to what Jesus says it is. Jesus is promoting and selling his own brand of religion, else why be his disciple?

And this call for hatred of course is corroborated by Jesus' own behavior toward his mother. Time and again he snubs her. At one point he instructs his disciples to send Mary home, for he no longer considers her family. This guy openly shows contempt for his own mother and explicitly orders his disciples to hate their loved ones. Try drumming that into your teenage kids. Let's see how they turn out. "Mom, get away from me! Jesus says I should leave and hate you!"

The sea of faiths is populated by schools and schools of loonies. And Jesus? Just another fish in that ocean of deluded denizens, albeit a star nutcase.



* "Final" here means nothing more than that it is the rating that was published at that time. Should another round of voting be conducted it is not improbable that the weighted average of some sayings may change due to various factors including the composition of the Seminar Fellows.

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