And He did it with no mass (or social) communication

If you’d come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC
Had no mass communication…

— Jesus Christ Superstar

After persusing the various papers I subscribe to this morning, and finding little to engage my interest, I turned to my daily (well, most days) Bible readings for the day, and this was in the Gospel:

“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s….

And it occurred to me that it would be great to know a lot more than we do about John the Baptist. We know he was this highly countercultural dude who lived in the wilderness and wore camel fur and ate locusts and honey. And he baptized people, most famously Jesus himself. And he came to a horrible end on this Earth.

But that isn’t enough to fully explain how big a deal he was in his day. Or apparently was, anyway. To a lot of people who lived in that place and time, it seems like he was even a bigger deal than Jesus for awhile. I infer that from the fact that so often in the New Testament, Jesus is explained to people in terms of his relationship to John. There seems to be an assumption at times that the writer of the Gospel or epistle knows people knew about John, and uses him as a launching point. For instance, The Gospel of Mark starts with John.

It would be great to be able to read a biography of John that’s as in-depth and detailed as a modern book such as Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, or David McCullogh’s John Adams, or Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex. And then go from there to fully grasping the foundation of Christianity.

But we can’t. The sources just don’t exist. And not just about John, but about any historical figure from before, say, Gutenberg came along. In fact, we should be grateful that we have more info on John that we do a lot of the more obscure Roman emperors.

Still, to a modern person, it’s frustrating. So we can all dig Judas’ complaint in “Superstar,” about Israel in 4 B.C. having no mass communication. Or even a printing press.

But you know what? That’s what makes Jesus more impressive. You don’t have to be a believer to grasp how awesome his achievement was. This rabbi from the boondocks took a local religion that was only embraced by this one tribe on the borders of an ancient empire, and made it into the dominant faith of the world (yes, Islam is big, but…). And he did it with word of mouth, for the first generation. That, and a few letters written by others.

Which, to me, is exactly the way God would do it. It’s more impressive (and certainly more dignified) than building a rep on “American Idol” and inspiring a billion tweets.

It’s sort of like the way I view evolution. I shake my head at all the arguments between creationists and Darwinists. Of COURSE evolution (and geology and cosmology and all that other stuff) is the way God would make the world. The abracadabra opening of Genesis is a great way to tell an allegory, but come on, people. Look at the sheer, gradual majesty of doing it through subtle changes over billions of years.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while doing today’s readings…

St. John the Baptist Preaching, c. 1665, by Mattia Preti

8 thoughts on “And He did it with no mass (or social) communication

  1. Carol Smith

    Great column! And what a delightful way to explain Genesis! It is exhausting to be with creationists who insist that if you just go to The Creation Museum, you’ll believe too!

  2. Ken

    This is a rather breezy, superhero-like take on Jesus and the development of Christianity. In the first few centuries of its existence, Christianity spun off into a range of different beliefs and “churches.” It only obtained a kind of unity through the embrace of power – or, rather, the ruling power’s embrace of it, under Emperor Constantine. And through the imposition of doctrinal order at the Council of Nicaea. Just how closely this paralleled Jesus’s teaching is, really, a matter more of speculation than of fact. In other words, Christianity as it exists today (not even taking into account how it is interpreted by many of its so-called “believers” nowadays) is less a product of Jesus’s efforts than of all those who came after him, who shaped it to suit their own needs and preferences.

  3. Bob Amundson

    1972 – I saw Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway. Wow. Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd? One of you denies me – one of you betray me.

    Full disclosure – I am at JFK heading to Hong Kong then to Manila. I need a break from America. But April 8 there is a total eclipse in my hometown of Cuba (the Greek Goddess of sleeping children) New York. Remember 2017 in Columbia?

    I suggest watching John Legend singing the role of Jesus Christ.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I saw it at the Carolina Coliseum in 1971, before a play was ever staged. It was basically a concert, people standing up there singing on the stage — a live version of the album.

      And Yvonne Elliman sang the part of Mary Magdalene.

      Sorry to one-up you there… 🙂

    2. Bob Amundson

      Yvonne Elliman was still Mary on Broadway, and Ben Vereen as Judas. I see the musical as a more “Jewish” rather than a “Christian ” interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ.

      Manila is amazing – and of course as ex-Navy, I have a soft spot for the Philippines. I have returned!

        1. Bob Amundson

          Great point! MacArthur was better at PR than Military Strategy. Tom and Judy Turnipseed started “Food Not Bombs’ to feed the Homeless. I hope to expand that concept Worldwide.

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