Where Christianity Went Wrong

Written By:  Bob Brinsmead

I have just re-read the little book, Where Christianity Went Wrong, by Patricia A. Williams. I highly commend it.  It is not a polemical essay.  The author treats those who take other positions with great courtesy and respect. I think she could have chosen a better title for her book. Hers is not a Christian bashing exercise.

The central theme of her book is to point out that what the historical Jesus was really on about is not what Christianity came to be on about.  She pursues her theme with kindness and respect for scholars who take the view that Jesus was an eschatological or apocalyptic prophet proclaiming the imminent end of the world – a view that took over due to the influence of Albert Sweitzer’s Historical Jesus about a 100 years ago.

Williams does not say anything really new, but she makes her two main points by highlighting a Jesus whose sharp wit, deliberate exaggeration and playfulness of irony was not understood by the church.

(1) Jesus mocked the dream of the end time with stories, aphorisms and deeds that were nothing short of laughable blasphemy in an age absolutely soaked in end of the world dreaming.  His dim-witted disciples never gave up their dream of the end time that Jesus so ruthlessly made the object of laughter and scorn.  Instead of destroying their dream of the end, the resurrection revived it as the greatest sign of the end time dawning.  Accordingly, they turned Jesus into an apocalyptic prophet to endorse their end of the world delusions.

2) Jesus mocked and rejected the institution that was the centre of the religion of his day – the Temple founded on a sacrificial system.  Of course he was not the first to do this. This critique of religion based on sacrifices was central to the message of the prophets.  Some of the Essenes and Hellenists like Stephen were also critical of the Temple/ Sacrificing system.  But Jesus used wit and said and did laughable things to drive home the point. Jesus’ critique of the Temple had to be much deeper than dislodging a few tables of money exchange.

What Jesus did was both laughable and insulting to the established religion.  What got him arrested and killed was not just the incident in the temple, but what he proceeded to do immediately after – the disrespect showed to the Passover/temple/sacrificial tradition by the wit and even laughable way he lampooned the whole thing.  Instead of honouring the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb and the role of the priesthood in it all (people ate of flesh of a lamb that had been offered at the temple by a priest) Jesus audaciously presented the agricultural products of bread and wine proclaiming that these were his Passover “sacrifice”, that this was the kind of blood by which he would celebrate his real Passover freedom.

As Williams sees it, what Jesus did was a laughable critique of Temple cult, something that embodied the same wit and laughter as portrayed in some of his outrageous stories and sayings.  This was the final straw for Judas, an act so blasphemous that it had to be reported.  It was this attack on the temple sacrificial religion that caused the religious authorities to immediately have Jesus arrested and killed.

Yet the followers of Jesus were so incurably apocalyptic and wedded to the old religious thinking, that they turned the death of Jesus into what he was bent on repudiating – atonement by a bleeding sacrifice victim.  Could there be a greater betrayal of the message of Jesus than turning his death into the supreme sacrificial atonement?

Anyway, I recommend the little book.  It certainly takes all the religious nonsense out of the Last Supper.