Jesus Christ as an Anarchist (?)

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    Not really a question, but I wanted to share an interesting commentary that might add to lecture 22 (The New Testament Era):

    In case this commentary is dubious or can/should even be dismissed, please do let me know, however.

    The commentary is also offering an alternative interpretation of Jesus’ words “My kingdom is not of this world”.

    In case you don’t want to read the entire thing, I am quoting some highlights:

    “Jesus came along to lead his followers out of this ungodly Roman system, preaching an alternative form of government. He spoke of a jurisdiction outside of the Roman state, based on the perfect law of freedom, outside the tyranny of men who would rule over their brothers and neighbors. He unified the early Christian church in a system of charity, hope and respect for the rights of each other, requiring that each person love thy neighbor as thy self in a system of mutual, not governmental support.

    Jesus baptized people out of the welfare system established by the Romans and Pharisees and into the charitable system administered by the apostles […]

    Having created his government-less society, Jesus took on the Pharisees, essentially a political party at the time, who had passed an ordinance requiring the temple tax be paid or face the judgment of a civil magistrate of the Judean government […]

    The moneychangers required the temple tax to be paid in the denarii, and took their commissioned cut of the currency conversion for the people to worship. When Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, he was really threatening the powerful elite’s ungodly way of life. This final insult could no longer be tolerated.

    When brought before Pilate, Jesus declared, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’. The word ‘world’ was written kosmos in the original Greek, which is defined as ‘orderly arrangement’, ‘order’ or ‘government’. What Jesus was really saying was that his Kingdom on this earth was not a part of the government of Rome, and explicitly not within their jurisdiction to rule over him. And Pilate generally agreed that he had no jurisdiction over Jesus’ Kingdom of non-government. Jesus had taken the Kingdom from those who would suppress and subject the people in sloth and servitude, and entrusted it to His loyal followers who were leaders in a Kingdom that set men free in spirit and in truth. Anarchy indeed.”

    Jason Jewell

    Walter, this interpretation of Jesus as an anarchist surfaces off and on through the history of the Church. The Anabaptists of the 16th century, for example, took a stance of radical separation from everything having to do with the State. I discuss this in the lecture on the Swiss Reformation in the Western Civilization Since 1500 series.

    I think this commentary you link is correct to the extent that as more and more people behave the way Jesus taught them to, the perceived need for the State shrinks. I also think it would be a mistake to view Jesus’ ministry or specific statements such as that in John 18:36 as being primarily political.


    Maybe so, but the mainline Christians certainly didn’t understand things this way. The first Christian historian, Eusebius, for example, wrote an entire _History of the Church_ centered on the idea that the most important thing that ever happened was the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. He explored this idea further in two eulogies of the emperor, who has always been regarded in the eastern Church as a saint. I published an article on this topic in _The Greek Orthodox Theological Review_ about 15 years ago.

    As far as Eusebius and his Orthodox successors were concerned, the Church was instituted by God, and St. Constantine’s role was to make Christianity the chief faith of the world — here understood as the Roman Empire. For Eusebius and his contemporaries, the sudden shift from persecuted faith to favored by the emperor could only have been worked by God. It received its astounding validation when Constantine attended the Synod of Nicea and touched the wounds of confessor-saint bishops and monks in attendance. Imagine, an emperor formerly leader of a state religion that worshiped worldly power and beauty supporting the carpenter-God’s Church and embracing its disfigured leaders. This was breath-taking.

    You can see the legacy of Eusebius’s understanding in the testament of Vladimir Monomach, for example. The Russian Primary Chronicle is chock-full of stories of rulers embracing and following this model.

    Jason Jewell

    If this helps to clarify things for Walter: one of the big differences historically between the Eastern and Western churches is how they treat the relationship between the Church and the State. The Eastern church viewed the emperor as being the head of the Church on earth, whereas the Western church assigned this position to the pope. Neither rejected the legitimacy of the State as an institution except in a few cases like the Anabaptists, who were well outside the mainstream.


    Very good – thanks for your clarifications.


    Dr J
    You mention a few reasons for Christianity’s quick growth: eternal life, human Jesus, open to all. But what about tax incentives? There was a fiscus ludaicus tax on all Jews. The early Jewish-Christians were exempted by emperor Nerva and this head tax wasn’t abolished until 2-3rd century.

    I think I read somewhere that Muhammad started Islam as a tax dodge? This can be seen with jizya tax on non-Muslim citizens.

    And how about this theory that Jesus and Judas the Galilean are the same? Josephus really only wrote of Jesus death and Judas temple cleansing.

    Any suggestions of books on ancient taxation?

    Thx, Jim

    Jason Jewell

    Jim, Nerva’s measure you cite above would have only applied to Jewish Christians, and the numbers of Jews who convert after the late 1st century is relatively insignificant. It was against the law for Gentiles to be Christians; they were not given any tax benefits. So tax considerations cannot really be a major reason for the spread of Christianity in the 3rd century.

    The jizya is probably better viewed as an attempt to decapitalize non-Muslims rather than an effort to dodge taxes on the part of Muslims.

    Charles Adams’s history of taxation is probably the best out there, although ancient taxation is not its exclusve focus,

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