About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2012/02/24

“Abba” isn’t “Daddy!”

“Abba” isn’t “Daddy!” it is so much more and so much more precious!
       Abba is a famous Christian Semitic loanword (together with for instance Alleluia or Amen). Abba means “father”, not “daddy” as  popular opinion would often like to have it. Sentimental theology came up with the idea that Abba was a word from the children’s vocabulary and that it corresponded with Jesus’ unique relationship with God. This idea became quite widespread and deeply rooted in the popular imagination. It is attractive, but it is wrong! This idea needs to be challenged because it represents only a shallow veneer of sentimentality, while true reality beneath is deeper, truer, more transformative and radical.
       There is no question that Jesus called God father. He even might call God Abba, although that is not altogether certain. Jesus’s family circumstances of a fatherless child and most likely also a childless and landless man (the very bottom of the social hierarchy) certainly gave him a unique perspective on life. He had first hand experience, deep understanding and heightened sensitivity and a bond with the small, weak and marginalized. And to this unique relationship Jesus invited and introduced his disciples by encouraging them to call God father.
       In this Lenten season our Sunday sermons will be dedicated to refreshing and re-hearing the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer which we say so often so casually. It opens with a simple address of God as father. It is not an endorsement of any patriarchal domination system. Quite the contrary, if we repeat it from the lips of Jesus with understanding, we consciously and emotionally bond and side with all the societal underdogs. It offers us a new perspective; it has power to transform and change our lives, and so much more!

------------------------------------------------------------------
And for those who read this far here is some background information.

       The Gospel of Mark offers us a rare unintended glimpse into Jesus’ childhood. The people in Nazareth dismissed him, asking derisively: Isn’t he that carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Judas, and Simon, and don’t we all know his sisters? (Mark 6:3)
       It offers us surprising and powerful insight:
Jesus was poor - I think that Mark correctly states that he was carpenter, while the later tradition in Matthew tries to correct it into carpenter’s son, but at this point it really does not matter. Jesus was TEKTON which was not a cabinet maker nor a craftsmen erecting buildings and roofs. It simply meant that Jesus was not a farmer. He did not own (inherit) land or did not have enough land to support him. He was just another landless day-laborer.
Jesus was an illegitimate child - he was clearly born out of wedlock (Even if you take miraculous stories seriously). Mockery in Nazareth reveals something more. In patriarchal society which measured status by a long list of male ancestors, Jesus is called the “son of Mary”. It is so unusual that the closest biblical example of a son being publicly identified by his mother is in Judges 11:1 "Now Jephthah from Gilead was a mighty hero, he was the son of a prostitute, fathered by whole Gilead." Thus reference to Jesus as “the son of Mary” appears only in the oldest tradition and is quickly omitted and edited out later.
    This is further supported by ancient extrabiblical tradition which is almost as old as some of the New Testament writings. In the second century a philosopher called Celsus penned the first known attack against Christianity. In it he alleged that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier called Panthera.
    Interestingly, a Tombstone of a Centurion called Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera was discovered in 1859 in Germany. This Pantera died near Bingerbrüg in Germany around year 40 C.E., but he was born around 20 B.C.E. in Sidon in Phoenicia. We cannot be certain that this Pantera is identical with the Pantera mentioned by Celsus, his name was common among soldiers, but it is certainly an interesting coincidence. Celsus clearly touched a live nerve with the early Christians, because almost a century later the famous theologian Origen still considered it important enough to attempt refuting Celsus’ hearsay.

    I do not know why church started to conceal and embellish Jesus’ origins as if they were ashamed of it. For me the truth is always powerful and revealing.
    Only when I discovered this non-legendary origin of Jesus, did I finally start to understand him. It clicked in! Jesus was born in an obscure Galilean periphery, in a small insignificant village, a poor and illegitimate child at the very bottom of the social pile. Finally I saw and understood how and why in his ministry he had such a weakness for the weak, how and why he had such a heightened sensitivity for injustice! And we can also understand why his calling God father was so radical and transformative. This God Father shares the same interests in the lonely, forgotten, marginalized, and oppressed. 

       And finally Jesus (or early Christians) was/were patently subversive to the Roman imperialism. Just think about it all against the background of the Roman Imperial Ideology where Father of the Fatherland (PATER PATRIAE) was one of the highest and most desirable titles of the Roman Emperors. (See for instance self-laudatory propaganda of Augustus in his Res Gestae Divi Augusti §35 - Final paragraph of his monumental "Acts of Divine Augustus".
       The Romans trumpeted their emperors as fathers. These fatherly emperors epitomized Roman patriarchal system, imperial power, wealth and military might. Christians, on the other hand, with every prayer did something very subversive, they invoked the exact opposite, the Father of compassion, forgiveness, justice and peace. The true father of humanity is not a self-promoting tyrant in Rome but the Heavenly Father of all the despised, marginalised, oppressed and exploited. 

Acts of Divine Augustus - Fascist replica of Roman imperial propaganda

No comments: