In Obery Hendricks’ The Political Jesus, chps. 1-2, we are treated to a survey of the socio-political context for Jesus’ kingdom message. Let me ask this question for our conversation today:
How significant are the socio-political themes of the Old Testament for setting Jesus’ mission in context? Do we read Genesis 1-2 and then chp 3, and then skip to Jesus? Or, do we plow through the Exodus and the prophetic vision in order to set Jesus in context?
Is your Jesus sufficiently socially-shaped to have been a live, real, threatening figure in the 1st Century? What do we do with Paul’s understanding of what God is doing with what Jesus thought?
Here are Hendricks’ points: he surveys the history of Israel and then shows how each is connected to Jesus’ vision. Thus: exodus, the judges, Messiah, the prophets, the exile, the Maccabean revolt, the Herodian regime — and then looks at the theme of justice.
Chp 2: political factors like occupation, Herod and the priests, economic factors like poverty, taxation, and debt, and social factors like crime, priestly elitism, the marginalization of Galileans, and the ammi ha-aretz.
How did Jesus, then, become a meek and mild Jesus? Hendricks appeals to an old canard: most orthodox are docetic (Jesus only “seems” to be human). He redefines it: “It is the heresy of refusing to acknowledge the importance of the political circumstances of Jesus’ earthly life and their influence on his person and ministry” (76). No, I’d say; this is not really docetism, but it is an expansion and extension of docetism. (Docetism is about personal anthropology, not social circumstance; but the former leads to the latter.)
He speaks of political docetism — denying Jesus’ political context. He was a spiritual leader; concerned with individuals only; crucified for personal not political reasons; his critique was not of structures but only of morals of individuals; he was nonpolitical but misunderstood as political; the Lamb of God evokes a meek and mild Jesus (not so; cf. Revelation).
Hendricks blames Paul for the docetic Jesus. Paul was an urbanite; he was apocalyptic (looking for Jesus’ return). He agreed with the content: kingdom of God, justice, etc.. But, Paul believed it would occur by a direct intervention by God; Jesus believed it was to happen now.
Paul is concerned with sinners; Jesus with the poor. Paul’s message is obsessed with the individual and personal piety and heaven.
Next he blames Constantine: politics and power and hierarchy and militarism and privilege are wedded to Jesus.