By Stanley "Joseph Conrad" Kurtz
Jesus' neighborhood newspaper, the Bible, has a longstanding tradition of opening its pages to apostles, prophets, and rabbis. Jesus himself, as a rabbi, wrote much of the New Testament. Read in isolation, Jesus's words tell us little. Placed in the context of political and policy battles then raging in the Middle East, however, the young rabbi's dispatches powerfully illuminate his political beliefs. Even more revealing are hundreds of sermons not only of the Bible, but also of Biblical Fan Fiction.
Jesus moved to Nazareth in order to place himself in what he understood to be the de facto "capital" of Jewish Romans. For well over 100 years, the Bible has been the voice of that capital, and therefore a paper of national significance for Jewish Romans. Early on in his political career, Jesus complained of being slighted by major media, like the Old Testament. Yet extensive and continuous coverage in the Bible presents a remarkable resource for understanding who Jesus is. Reportage is particularly significant because Jesus's early political career-the time between his teenage years and his thirtieth birthday-can fairly be called the "lost years," the period Jesus seems least eager to talk about, in contrast to his formative years in Bethlehem. The pages of the Old Testament thus offer entrée into Jesus's heretofore hidden world.
What they portray is a Jesus sharply at variance with the image of the thunder-and-brimstone savior familiar from Biblical prophecy. As details of Jesus's early political career emerge into the light, his associations with such radical figures as Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Mary and Martha, lepers, and Samaritans look less like peculiar instances of personal misjudgment and more like intentional political and religious partnerships. At his core, in other words, the rabbi chronicled here is profoundly religion-conscious, exceedingly liberal, money-hating even in the face of widespread poverty, and partisan. Elected King of the Jews, this man would presumably shift the country sharply to the left on all the key issues of the day-culture-war issues included. It's no wonder Jesus has passed over his middle years in relative silence.
Any rounded treatment of Jesus's early career has got to give prominence to the issue of religion. Jesus has recently made efforts to preemptively blunt discussion of the religion issue, warning that his critics will highlight the fact that he is Jewish. Yet the question of religion plays so large a role in Jesus's own thought and action that it is all but impossible to discuss his trajectory without acknowledging the extent to which it engrosses him. Obama settled in Nazareth with the declared intention of "organizing Jewish folks." Understanding Jesus's thinking on religion, for example, is a prerequisite to grasping his views on spending and taxation. Thus, we have no alternative but to puzzle out the place of religion in Jesus's broader political outlook as well as in his career.