60 Thomas Cahill Quotes on Books, Geneaology and Culture - Quotes.pub

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This commentary is so important within Matthew’s framework that it is worth quoting in its entirety: Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets: I have come not to abolish but to complete. I tell you solemnly: till heaven and earth disappear, not one jot or tittle will disappear from the Torah—not till everything has come to be. So whoever breaks even one of the least of these commandments and teaches other human beings to do likewise will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever keeps them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. (For I tell you: unless you do more justice than the scribes and Pharisees, you will never make it into the Kingdom of Heaven.) You have heard that it was said to our People long ago: Thou shalt not kill;8 and whoever does must face judgment. But I say to you: Whoever is angry with a brother must face judgment; whoever calls a brother “raqa” [Aramaic for “moron”] must answer to the Sanhedrin [the Jewish high court]; whoever calls him “traitor” is in danger of the fire of Gehenna.9 Let’s say that you are bringing your offering to the altar and remember that your brother holds something against you: leave your offering before the altar and go first to reconcile yourself with your brother; then return and make your offering. [Similarly,] come to terms with your accuser before you reach the court, lest he hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the warden, and you be thrown into prison. Solemnly I tell you: you will not get out till you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you: Whoever looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye is your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; better you should lose one of your members than that your whole body perish in Gehenna. And if your right hand is your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go down to Gehenna. And it has been said: Whoever divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say to you: Whoever divorces his wife, unless the marriage is already spoiled,10 makes her an adulterer; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to our People long ago: Thou shalt not swear falsely, but keep the oaths that you have made to the Lord. But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne, or by earth, since that is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, since that is the City of the Great King. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. Say “yes” when you mean “yes,” and “no” when you mean “no.” Anything more than this comes from the Evil One. You have heard that it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say to you: Do not resist the evildoer. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him; if someone sues you for your shirt, give him your coat as well; if someone makes you go one mile, go with him an extra mile. Give to everyone who asks; and from anyone who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven—for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward can you expect? Don’t even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greeting for your brother, what are you doing that’s so wonderful? Don’t even the gentiles do as much? You must, therefore, include everyone, just as your heavenly Father includes everyone.
do not mean to make Jesus the first stand-up Jewish comedian; but to get the tone here, one must hear the irony (and something close to self-mockery) in Jesus’s voice—he knows perfectly well that he’s asking the impossible—and one must see the great crowd, buzzing with confusion, and observe the light dawning in some faces as they come to realize what he is really talking about. It is precisely the entitlement of the powerful and the disfranchisement of the powerless that make life so unlivable. And whether this enshrined and permanent injustice, taken for granted by all, issues in war, torture, and all the grand oppressions to which the Beatitudes allude or just in the petty tortures that we visit on one another—the casual oppression of women by men, the interior wounds caused by quotidian mean-spiritedness, exclusiveness, and theatrical mendacity—spirit is crushed and ordinary life is made a torment. Whereas Mark’s Jesus speaks in blunt staccato phrases (“The Time has come”)—not unlike a certain inspired fisherman—Matthew’s subtle, balanced Jesus exhibits mastery of intellectual discourse, an attention to detail that verges on the legalistic, and a profound reverence for the godliness of Jewish tradition, all of which are likely to have been heightened by the mind and memories of Matthew, the well-schooled Jewish tax collector and Roman employee. However that may be, each portrait of Jesus has been given its peculiar style by the hand, personality, and life experiences of the artist who stands behind the portrait. And yet, both portraits are patently of the same Jesus, who preaches prophetic justice—that unique, inflexible ethic of Jewish religious tradition which insists that the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized be taken care of—but graciously encloses his words in a gentleness that was hardly the hallmark of the old Hebrew prophets. This is Jewish justice, all right, but justice tempered by an affectionate mercy.
The Jews, in their emphasis on justice and its lack, were familiar with guilt. They had no trouble portraying their greatest king, David, as a murderer beset by lust, a man who must come to feel the sharp, inner pangs of guilt for his abysmally unjust actions. Greco-Roman literary and imaginative traditions enshrined no such scenes. For the Greeks and Romans, sin—hamartia—was not personal, the result of an evil choice, made against the Law of God written in their hearts. Rather, it was an unavoidable flaw, such as Oedipus’s hamartia, his tragic mistake in murdering his father and marrying his mother, while believing he had done everything to avoid these very actions. For gentiles, what we may think of as a more “Oriental” orientation prevailed: rather than guilt, they were much more likely to feel shame, a far less socially constructive emotion.2 The great figures of the Christian tradition must not, therefore, be shown by their admiring biographer in shameful, slovenly, or compromising situations. Luke’s alterations are occasional; and it is tempting to make more of them than is warranted by his text. In the controversy over Jesus’s notorious dinner companions, for instance, Luke gives us the same answer as Mark, when Jesus, addressing the objections of the Pharisees and their scribes, says: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the upright but sinners”—Luke adding only eis metanoian (“to a change of heart”), which hardly constitutes a change of meaning. We discover in Luke’s Gospel a subtle development of the kerygma for presentation to a gentile audience, but a development without substantial discontinuity.
In the words of Paul Johnson: The Temple, now, in Herod’s1 version, rising triumphantly over Jerusalem, was an ocular reminder that Judaism was about Jews and their history—not about anyone else. Other gods flew across the deserts from the East without much difficulty, jettisoning the inconvenient and embarrassing accretions from their past, changing, as it were, their accents and manners as well as their names. But the God of the Jews was still alive and roaring in his Temple, demanding blood, making no attempt to conceal his racial and primitive origins. Herod’s fabric was elegant, modern, sophisticated—he had, indeed, added some Hellenic decorative effects much resented by fundamentalist Jews who constantly sought to destroy them—but nothing could hide the essential business of the Temple, which was the ritual slaughter, consumption, and combustion of sacrificial cattle on a gigantic scale. The place was as vast as a small city. There were literally thousands of priests, attendants, temple-soldiers, and minions. To the unprepared visitor, the dignity and charity of Jewish disapora life, the thoughtful comments and homilies of the Alexandrian synagogue, was quite lost amid the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench, the unconcealed and unconcealable machinery of tribal religion inflated by modern wealth to an industrial scale. Sophisticated Romans who knew the Judaism of the diaspora found it hard to understand the hostility towards Jews shown by colonial officials who, behind a heavily-armed escort, had witnessed Jerusalem at festival time. Diaspora Judaism, liberal and outward-minded, contained the matrix of a universal religion, but only if it could be cut off from its barbarous origins; and how could so thick and sinewy an umbilical cord be severed? This description of “Herod’s” Temple (actually the Second Temple, built in the sixth century B.C. and rebuilt by Herod) is more than a bit overwrought. The God of the Jews did not roar in his Temple: the insoluble problem was that, since the destruction of the First Temple and, with it, the Ark of the Covenant, God had ceased to be present in his Temple. Nor would animal sacrifice have disgusted the gentiles, since Greeks, Romans, and all ancient peoples offered such sacrifices (though one cannot help wondering whether, had the Second Temple not been destroyed, it would today be ringed from morn to night by indignant animal-rights activists). But Johnson is right to emphasize that Judaism, in its mother city, could display a sweaty tribalism that gentiles would only find unattractive. The partisan, argumentative ambience of first-century Jerusalem, not unlike the atmosphere of the ultra-Orthodox pockets of the contemporary city, could repel any outsider, whether gentile or diaspora Jew. Perhaps most important is Johnson’s shrewd observation that Judaism “contained the matrix of a universal religion.” By this time, the more percipient inhabitants of the Greco-Roman world had come to the conclusion that polytheism, whatever manifestation it might assume, was seriously flawed. The Jews alone, by offering monotheism, offered a unitive vision, not the contradictory and flickering epiphanies of a fanciful pantheon of gods and goddesses. But could Judaism adapt to gentile needs, could it lose its foreign accent and outlandish manners? No one saw the opportunity more clearly than Luke; his gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, present a Jesus and a Jesus Movement specifically tailored to gentile sensibility.
In the cities of the Jewish diaspora (especially Alexandria, Antioch, Tarsus, Ephesus, and Rome), Jews were widely admired by their gentile neighbors. For one thing, they had a real religion, not a clutter of gods and goddesses and pro forma rituals that almost nobody took seriously anymore. They actually believed in their one God; and, imagine, they even set aside one day a week to pray to him and reflect on their lives. They possessed a dignified library of sacred books that they studied reverently as part of this weekly reflection and which, if more than a little odd in their Greek translation, seemed to point toward a consistent worldview. Besides their religious seriousness, Jews were unusual in a number of ways that caught the attention of gentiles. They were faithful spouses—no, really—who maintained strong families in which even grown children remained affectively attached and respectful to their parents. Despite Caesar Nero’s shining example, matricide was virtually unknown among them. Despite their growing economic success, they tended to be more scrupulous in business than non-Jews. And they were downright finicky when it came to taking human life, seeming to value even a slave’s or a plebeian’s life as much as anyone else’s. Perhaps in nothing did the gentiles find the Jews so admirable as in their acts of charity. Communities of urban Jews, in addition to opening synagogues, built welfare centers for aiding the poor, the miserable, the sick, the homebound, the imprisoned, and those, such as widows and orphans, who had no family to care for them. For all these reasons, the diaspora cities of the first century saw a marked increase in gentile initiates to Judaism. Many of these were wellborn women who presided over substantial households and who had likely tried out some of the Eastern mystery cults before settling on Judaism. (Nero’s wife Poppea was almost certainly one of these, and probably the person responsible for instructing Nero in the subtle difference between Christians and more traditional Jews, which he would otherwise scarcely have been aware of.) These gentiles did not, generally speaking, go all the way. Because they tended to draw the line at circumcision, they were not considered complete Jews. They were, rather, noachides, or God-fearers, gentiles who remained gentiles while keeping the Sabbath and many of the Jewish dietary restrictions and coming to put their trust in the one God of the Jews. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, however, could turn out to be a difficult test of the commitment of the noachides. For here in the heart of the Jewish world, they encountered Judaism enragé, a provincial religion concerned only with itself, and ages apart from the rational, tolerant Judaism of the diaspora. In the words of Paul Johnson: