33 CE — Jesus returns from dead

And on the the third day, He rose again.

Jesus, called the Christ, died upon the Cross, and on the third day (if you count the day he died – it’s actually closer to about half that, sunset Friday to sunrise Sunday) rose again. And not being in a patient mood, rolled aside the stone closing his tomb from the inside (no easy task, but a minor miracle compared to the whole resurrection thing) and set about doing the Lord’s work.

40 days later, he ascended bodily into Heaven, and this time, he stayed there, barring the occasional cameo on a bit of toast.

Referenced in:

Vow — Garbage
John the Revelator — Son House
Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
The Post-War Dream — Pink Floyd
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde
Jesus Walking On The Water — Violent Femmes

33 CE — Jesus dies upon the Cross

It is the central event of Christianity: Jesus Christ surrendered to the Romans, was briefly tried by Pontius Pilate, and sent to be crucified. Once up on the cross, he died in an unusually short time (crucifixion is a slow and painful death). In his last words, he called on his heavenly father, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” (in English “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (At least, he did according to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew – John and Luke each tell different stories.)

When the Romans came by to break the legs of the crucified (a measure that hastens death), they discovered that Jesus was already dead. He was taken down and buried, rising from the dead on the third day (somewhat undermining the “last words” thing, but he’s the Son of God. Different rules apply.)

Today, these events are commemorated by the eating of chocolate (not introduced to Europe, Asia and Africa until 14 centuries later) delivered by a rabbit (because… I have no idea why).

Referenced in:

Ah Yeah — Krs-One
Imperial Rome — Aska
For Love — Andy Prieboy
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
The Post-War Dream — Pink Floyd
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde
The Mercy Seat — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Jesus Walking On The Water — Violent Femmes

33 CE — Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus

Judas Iscariot is a complex and contradictory character in the gospels. He did betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, repent too late, and commit suicide. But how much did he act from his own volition, and how much in fulfillment of God’s grand design? How much was he an independent actor responsible for his own deeds, and how much was he a puppet dancing on divine strings? The only thing we know for sure is that we’ll never get a straight answer out of any church on the subject.

Referenced in:

Tomas De Torquemada — Down I Go

33 CE — Mary Magdalene gives birth to the son of Jesus

Assuming that Jesus did have a child (and there is, in fact, some textual evidence to suggest this in some versions of the Bible, although it is more an implication than a statement), the chances are that the boy – variously named, most interestingly as Merovee, the legendary founder of the Merovingian dynasty that later ruled France – was born in either 33 or 34 CE, after his father’s death.

However, much to the disappointment of fans of Dan Brown, there is little enough historical evidence to confirm the existence of Jesus, let alone that of any children of his. To say nothing of the fact that Mary Magdalene is not the only woman identified in legend as a wife of Jesus, nor of the legends that their child was actually a girl named Sarah.

In all probability, there was no Grandson of Man.

Referenced in:

Point of No Return — Immortal Technique

33 CE — Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

Known to Christians as the “Agony in the Garden”, Christ’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives are mentioned in John 18:1, Matthew 26:36-45 (the only account to name the garden) and Luke 22:39-46. Accompanied by three of the Apostles – Peter, John and James – Christ retired to the garden to pray that God would permit him to not go through with his sacrifice and Crucifixion the following day.

The agony here is, of course, spiritual and emotional rather than physical. That would follow very shortly, however: immediately upon leaving the garden, Christ encounters Judas, a meeting which will result in the deaths of both men before the following sunset.

Referenced in:

John the Revelator — Son House

Note: This date is based on the traditional date of the Crucifixion as April 3.

What’s so Good about it?

Welcome to yet another Good Friday. I suppose it’s nice to have the day off and all, but really, I have to wonder just exactly how much whoever coined that name really cared about Jesus the man, rather than Christ the symbol. Because I don’t imagine it was a very good day for him.

Think about it:

On the Thursday night, he gets together with his twelve best mates, sick at heart because he already knows that two of them will betray him (admittedly, to wildly differing scopes) in the next twenty four hours. He even tells them that one of them will betray him (Matthew 26:24-25, Mark 14:18-21, Luke 22:21-23 and John 13:21-30), and another will deny him (Matthew 26:33-35, Mark 14:29-31, Luke 22:33-34 and John 13:36-38).

He then goes and spend the next several hours begging his boss/father not to make him go through with it (Luke 22:43–44), because after all, who wants to die – especially in as painful a manner as crucifixion.

Jesus is then betrayed (just like he predicted) and arrested (Matthew 26:47–50, Mark 14:43–45 and Luke 22:47–48), whipped, made to wear a crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:17 and John 19:2-5), forced to carry the instrument of his suffering and death through the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:27-33, Mark 15:20-22, Luke 23:26-32 and John 19:16-17) and finally crucified (Matthew 27:34-61, Mark 15:23-47, Luke 23:33-54 and John 19:18-38).

It’s little wonder that one of the last things he said before dying on that cross was “E′li, E′li, la′ma sa‧bach‧tha′ni?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34), or in English: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Doesn’t sound like a very good Friday to me.

32 CE — The Sermon on the Mount

By any reasonable standard, the Sermon on the Mount is a confused mess. The best-known section of it, the Beautitudes, are a series of platitudes in which, as Monty Python pointed out, Jesus states that blessed is everyone with a vested interest in the status quo. It doesn’t help that the two Gospels that mention them – Luke and Matthew – disagree on how many of them there are, and what they say, either. The Sermon goes on to include several parables.

Nonetheless, the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best-known events in the entire ministry of Jesus, and the Beatitudes in particular have been a foundation of Christian ethics for centuries. Notably, Matthew states that it was in this Sermon that Jesus gave forth that most frequently ignored of all his teachings: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Referenced in:

Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For? – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

32 CE — Jesus heals the lepers

Jesus actually healed lepers on at least two separate occasions according to the gospels – and that’s assuming that the tale of him healing a single leper, related variously in Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45 and Luke 5:12-16, refers to the same leper on each occasion.

He also once healed a group of ten lepers in a single go: this one related only in Luke 17:11-19. Interestingly, the only one of the ten lepers to return and thank Jesus later was a Samaritan. (Luke’s gospel is also the only one to mention the Parable of the Good Samaritan; one cannot help suspecting that Luke may have had something of an agenda.)

Referenced in:

One — U2
Jesus — Queen
One — Johnny Cash

33 CE — Jesus predicts his betrayal by Peter

It’s a well-known story. At the Last Supper, after Jesus bluntly tells his twelve closest friends that one of them will betray him, they all protest that they would never do such a thing. And no one protests louder or longer than Simon Peter (not so-named for the rocks in his head, although you could be forgiven for thinking so).

Jesus calmly tells Peter that Peter will deny him three times, which is met with still more protestations by Peter.

In a shocking plot twist, it turns out that everything Jesus predicted came to pass. Peter should have asked him for the lotto numbers.

Referenced in:

Great King Rat — Queen

32 CE — Jesus walks upon the water

So, in the course of their travels, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to Bethsaida, a journey they made by taking a boat across the Sea of Galilee. A storm blew up, and the disciples were in fear of their lives before Jesus walked across the surface of the lake, supported by nothing more than water (and the ineffable power of the God of Israel). Tthe disciples were understandably discombobulated by this apparent apparition, but then Jesus climbed into the boat himself, proving that he was real.

In what is something of a common theme for Simon Peter – although this time mentioned only in Matthew – the future first Pope started off with good intentions but lost faith quickly. He walked out onto the water towards Jesus, but then became afraid, and began to sink. Jesus pulled him from the water and they both walked back to the boat.

Referenced in:

Suzanne — Leonard Cohen
Jesus Walking On The Water — Violent Femmes

St Thomas the Apostle – proto-agnostic?

The man best known to history as “Doubting Thomas” might seem an unlikely choice for the title of agnostic. And yet, there’s little in his story to suggest that he wasn’t. But to explain that, it’s necessary to clear up a common misconception about agnosticism.

The classic idea of the agnostic is of a person who is indecisive and cannot commit to any one belief. Some interpretations (not those made by actual agnostics) are based on the idea that agnostics are forbidden to believe.

That’s an oversimplification. Agnostics are not forbidden to believe – we simply choose not to believe without proof. Now, if your entire belief system is based on belief without proof, I can see where this is a fine distinction that may seem unimportant to you. But the story of St Thomas is an excellent illustration of how important it can be.

Thomas is mentioned only one time each in the Gospels of Luke (3:18), Mark (6:15) and Matthew (10:3) – and in each of them, it is in a listing of the calling of the twelve apostles. Only in the Gospel of John does he get much time on stage.

His first mention is in John 11:16, when he persuades the other apostles to go with Jesus to resurrect Lazarus. Interestingly, it’s Jesus who in this story wants the apostles to witness the miracle so that they will have proof.

Next, in John 14:5, Thomas tells Jesus that despite his assurances to them, the apostles do not know what will happen to anyone after death. Jesus responds with a complex explanation of how the afterlife works, and no more is said on the subject. (In Australian political terms, Thomas fed Jesus a dixer here.)

Finally, in chapter 20, there is the story for which Thomas is best known, when Jesus begins appearing to people after his resurrection, and Thomas keeps missing him. It would qualify as a running gag if it were better told. Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has come back from the dead – not an unreasonable position, although given that he has already seen Jesus resurrect Lazarus, and the lack of any history showing the apostles playing practical jokes on each other, his doubt is somewhat obdurate. One gets the impression it has less to do with rigid adherence to proof and more with feeling left out.

In any case, Jesus finally appears, and tells Thomas to examine his scars – and how I love that every analysis I can find makes a point of mentioning that it is not clear whether or not Thomas touches the scars, because touching scars is, y’know, icky and all. Thomas does, and is convinced, and Jesus reverses his earlier position on proving resurrections, telling Tom that he should have believed without proof.

So, given all this, why do I think Thomas can be seen as an agnostic? First, he wants to see the miracle for himself when Lazarus is resurrected. Next, he is the only one to point out that no man knows what the afterlife is like. And finally, of course, he demands proof of the resurrection of Jesus. In the first and third cases, it’s made clear that he believes after seeing. In the second, it’s less clear what he believes, but the fact that Jesus successfully predicted his own return to life surely lends credence to his other remarks on the subject.

And despitethe remarks made by Jesus about belief without proof, it’s clear that requiring proof for one’s beliefs is no disqualification for sainthood. St Thomas may not be the most popular of the saints, but there is still no shortage of churches named for him. By implication, the church does have a place for those who adhere to a higher standard of evidential proof – although there’s very few Christian sects who’d come out and say so.

There is, and need be, no contradiction between doubt and belief – they can be seen as the absence and presence of proof, respectively – and as such, I think it’s no great stretch to claim St Thomas the Doubter as a proto-agnostic.