Jesus of Nazareth: A Political Activist Speaking of Peace and Love
A Political Activist Speaking of Peace and Love
[Image: A Strasburgian painter, possibly Hermann Schadeberg, depicts the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.]
Publication date: 2022-04-16
Update 2022-06-04: minor updates; grammatical etc..
Easter Friday, a very significant time in the Christian Calendar, affords us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus of Nazareth. One needs neither be a religious scholar nor an historian to review some of the basic elements of the Passover meal and Jesus' political activism.
It is commonly reported that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. That he was Jewish seems uncontroversial. However, the term of Syria-Palestinia is first used by Roman Emperor Hadrian:
It was also referred to, however, as Palestine and, after the Bar-Kochba Revolt of 132-136 CE, the Roman emperor Hadrian renamed the region Syria-Palaestina to punish the Jewish people for their insurrection (by naming it after their two traditional enemies, the Syrians and the Philistines). The designations Philistia, Roman Judea, and Palestine were all in use afterwards.
Assuming that Jesus lived before the Bar-Kochba Revolt, then the term Palestinian Jew does seem contentious. He would have been a Judean Jew, which is perhaps a little redundant.
The naming is not terribly relevant, unless one enjoys etymology and/or historical cartography. What we do know is that the geographical region was one which had suffered during what seems to amount to at least 600 years of invasion and conquering and counter invasion and more conquering.
In 539 BCE Cyrus II of the Persian Achaemenian dynasty followed up his triumph over Media by conquering Lydia and Babylonia, thus making himself ruler of the greatest empire thitherto known. In the administrative reforms implemented by Darius I (reigned 522–486 BCE), Phoenicia, Palestine-Syria, and Cyprus constituted the fifth province (satrapy) of the Persian empire (Herodotus, The History, Book III, chapter 91).
The Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and the armies of Alexander the Great all conquered the region in succession and, finally, so too, the armies of Rome. By the time Rome appeared in the land it was long known as Judea, a term taken from the ancient Kingdom of Judah which had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
Let’s use the term Canaan to refer to the area, which was the dominant Mesopotamian term for the region during the period. Canaan seems to have found itself in a rather difficult place, with Egypt to West, Babylonia and Persia to the East and Syria to the North.
There must have been something about Canaan which was valuable, because they all wanted control over it. Thus, the region is something of a plaything of the geopolitics of the time. During the period from Cyrus II of Persia until Jesus’ death we see all of the major power players, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Syrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans all vying for control. There are certainly other players like the Phoenicians who used the Mediterranean sea as a conduit for trade wishing other accesses.
In this context, Jesus can be seen as a political activist. He does not call for armed insurrection. He is no Che Guevara. His message is one of compassion and love, solidarity even, for a community that has suffered for centuries as empires compete for their territory, or to at least pass through it. Jesus' message of love and solidarity is sufficiently popular that he gathers to him supporters of the message, the apostles, which creates a political movement. A part of Jesus' message was that of a political peace activist. The movement is sufficiently threatening to the local rulers of the time, the Romans, that they kill him using their sadistic practice of crucifixion.
Ray McGovern writes of the Passover meal:
Jesus had two main messages (excerpts are from John 14 & 15, Eugene H. Peterson translation):
1 — “Remember the root command: Love one another”; and
2 — “Expect rough times ahead: They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor.”
The first message is core: "the root command". The second seems to foresee a form of psychological operation. The use of crucifixion as a form of killing people is an ancient form of psyop and propaganda. Jesus’ foretelling of “throw you out of the meeting places” is a less violent hint towards these ancient psychological operations.
From Canaan to Ukraine
It may seem a bit of a stretch to compare Ukraine to Canaan, though there are parallels. In 1453 muslims of Anatolia, the Ottoman Empire precursor, finally defeated the thorn in their side which was Constantinople. The ancient city represented the capital and heart of the Eastern Roman Empire. The trading post in Kiev was a very import place for the Kievan Rus, as the name suggests. It was an important trading location for the region and that thorn, the Eastern Roman Empire.
In 1812 Napoleon advances into Russia to the north of Ukraine through modern Belarus. A key battle, that of Smolensk was a brutal attack on the garrisoned city during which 84% of its buildings were destroyed. Smolensk is just on the Russian side of the modern border between Belarus and Russia. Kiev is under 500 Km distant and easily reached; just float downstream on the Dnieper River.
[Image: The Battle of Smolensk, by Albrect Adam, from Wikipedia.]
The English and French (Empires) united to try to remove Russia from the Crimean Peninsula during the Crimean War (1853 to 1856). The western region of modern Ukraine was soon a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867 to 1918). In the 20th century Germany repeats the mistake of attempting to invade Russia made by France, again invading Ukraine.
Our current day is less than 600 years from the defeat of the Eastern Roman empire in Constantinople. In the meantime, the region of Ukraine has been a plaything of 6 empires (with Tsarist and Soviet empires being counted separately) and one aspiring empire (German). With the current proxy war being funded by the USA and its European allies one can add a 7th empire to the historical list of those using Ukraine for their purposes.
Because Kiev and the Black Sea coast have been such key trading zones it has also seen a mixing of cultures and languages which similarly occurred in Canaan. The trading ports on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean were extremely important. They linked overland routes from Persia, central Asia and India to the maritime routes of Europe. The southern of these eastern sea ports were in Canaan. Though the comparison may lack some linkages, it is reasonable. Canaan and Ukraine are regions of cultural interchange and trade.
There are also political activists and pacifists in Ukraine today. Some having fled Ukraine. Many are being politically or psychologically repressed or mauled by their government or media outlets.
A beautiful recent piece by Caitlin Johnstone pays tribute to those who refuse to be pawns in other people's battles. The article cites The New York Times’ attacks against these people wishing not to murder others. Another recent article, this time by Fergie Chambers, discusses interviews with and treatment of pacifist political activists from Ukraine and their abuse by the Ukrainian government .
Empires wax and wane. The message of "Make peace and love, not war" is very old.
As we reflect of the life of Jesus of Nazareth one can hear modern echoes of this ancient political message.
Palestine, Joshua J. Mark, World History Encyclopedia, 2018-10-25
The Iron Age, The Israelites in Palestine, Encyclopedia Britannica
Love One Another; Rough Times Ahead, Ray McGovern, his website, 2022-04-14
A Love Letter To All Draft Dodgers, Caitlin Johnstone, her newsletter, 2022-04-13
Exclusive: Ukrainian Refuseniks On Why Many Won’t Fight for Ukraine, Fergie Chambers, Toward Freedom, 2022-04-12
If you like what you read here, you can please the author by sharing it.
Do Not Subscribe: This blog does not issue "notifications" via Substack. Use RSS. The URL is the obvious: https://yesxorno.substack.com/feed .
Following @YesXorNo1 on Twitter is the next best alert mechanism.
Copyright and Licensing
This work is copyright to the blog's author with CC BY-SA 4.0 licensing. Have fun, reuse, remix etc. but give credit and place no further restrictions. Lets build culture.