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Posts Tagged ‘good friday

the good friday myth – death in the afternoon?

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I actually don’t mind a day off from pubs, restaurants, shops and, of course, work, on one day of the year – holidays, days of chillaxin every now and then are well worth having – the ancient Romans loved em I hear – but to commemorate the putative crucifixion of someone who, as the incomprehensible narrative goes – died for our sins, or that we might be set free or have eternal grace, because he was a god or the son thereof but at the same time a human being or a symbol of all the sufferings of humanity and so on and on, well I get a little resentful of having that sort of shite imposed on me. So I’m just wondering, as this country’s Christian religiosity diminishes day by day, how much longer the good Friday saga will last. At least this morning’s ABC news breakfast program was much more about easter eggs than crosses, though it did feature a kindly Father Bob, a Catholic apparently, and a tireless worker amongst the poor Of Melbourne. In recent years he’s become something of a media celebrity, especially on radio. In the breakfast program interview, which I admit to only half listening to, he heaped praise on the new pope and then presented a somewhat incoherent metaphysics of faith. Well, long may he continue in his good work.

Easter has been with us for quite a while, but not, of course, from the day of crucifixion. However, though the gospels are more or less completely unreliable as history, they’re a little more date-conscious, or at least time-of-year conscious, in respect of Jesus’s death than they are with respect to his birth.  Jesus’s birthday could’ve been celebrated at any time, so vague and contradictory are the two gospel stories of that event. The one possible seasonal reference was to shepherds watching their flocks at night at the time (Luke 2:8), which would count as evidence against a December birth in the northern hemisphere. The mention of a census conducted at the time, which required people to move to their birthplaces (but this story is almost certainly false, there’s no evidence of any Roman census ever requiring such movement), also argues against a winter birth. You just wouldn’t ask people to move around en masse in the depths of winter in those pre-electric, pre-public transport times.

In any case, the date at which December 25 was fixed as Christmas is unclear, and there were many competing dates in the early years (and dating methods in any case were various and messy). In fact some early Christian thinkers, such as Origen, rejected the very idea of celebrating Jesus’s birthday, claiming that birthday celebration was a nasty pagan practice. So, long live that one.  Jehovah’s Witnesses today, by the way, refuse to celebrate Christmas presumably for the same reason as Origen, but who knows, and who cares?

But let’s return to Easter, whose events were much more significant to early Christianity. As it happens, the gospels give two slightly different accounts upon which to base the dating. John 19 presents the decision to crucify Jesus as having been made at ‘the preparation of the passover’, which might be the eve, though it also says, ‘about the sixth hour’. Sixth hour from what, midnight? Some translations change ‘sixth hour’ to ‘noon’, suggesting that it’s the sixth hour from dawn – in any case before the paschal or passover lamb is slaughtered, which had to be between 3pm and 5pm according to ancient Judaic law. This gives time for Jesus to be taken off to Golgotha and ‘sacrificed’ in the afternoon. The lamb had to be eaten by midnight on the same day (Nisan 14, according to the Hebrew calendar). The synoptic gospels on the other hand present the death as occurring on Nisan 15, with the Last Supper being in fact the Passover meal, and a huge amount of scholarly ink has been wasted in reconciling every mention of the hour in each of these texts.

To me, as a thorough-going sceptic, it seems bleeding obvious that Jesus’s death was written by these gospellers as occurring at Passover, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar (though another piece of nonsense, as it celebrates an event that is entirely mythical – the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, and their subsequent slaughter of the earlier inhabitants of the ‘promised land’). New religions are generally keen to take over the most important dates of a religion they’re keen to supersede, and that is surely why  Jesus is made to refer to himself as ‘the lamb of god’ (John 1:29, 1:36), sacrificed for a very different purpose than the paschal lamb. It’s significant that this description is in John, because the chronology in that gospel fits perfectly with Jesus being killed at the same time that the lamb is killed. John, the later gospel, ‘got it right’ improving on the synoptics who merely tried to hijack the passover meal for the purposes of the last supper, an occasion which could never be as important as the actual crucifixion. In other words the dating and timing of Good Friday was all about symbolism, not about truth. Of course there’s no evidence, outside of the gospels, that Jesus was crucified at all, let alone that he just happened to be crucified at the most important time of year for the Jews, against whom the new sect wished to assert themselves – most unpleasantly by describing them as killing their hero (John 19:14-16, Mark 15:9-15, Matthew 27:21-26, Luke 23:20-25). Matthew drives it home: ‘All the people answered, His blood is on us and our children!’ (Matt 27:25).

So it’s worth remembering this on Good Friday. It’s dating was, from the start, designed to stick it to the Jews, and to stake Christianity’s claim as a rival religion, and of course the Good Friday story, recounted in each of the gospels, marks the beginning of two millennia of Christian anti-Semitism.

Written by stewart henderson

March 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm