When we meet Jesus of Nazareth at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, almost surely the oldest of the four, he’s a full-grown man. He comes down from Galilee, meets John, an ascetic desert hermit who lives on locusts and wild honey, and is baptized by him in the River Jordan. If one thing seems nearly certain to the people who read and study the Gospels for a living, it’s that this really happened: John the Baptizer—as some like to call him, to give a better sense of the original Greek’s flat-footed active form—baptized Jesus. They believe it because it seems so unlikely, so at odds with the idea that Jesus always played the star in his own show: why would anyone have said it if it weren’t true? This curious criterion governs historical criticism of Gospel texts: the more improbable or “difficult” an episode or remark is, the likelier it is to be a true record, on the assumption that you would edit out all the weird stuff if you could, and keep it in only because the tradition is so strong that it can’t plausibly be excluded. If Jesus says something nice, then someone is probably saying it for him; if he says something nasty, then probably he really did.
So then, the scholars argue, the author of Mark, whoever he was—the familiar names conventionally attached to each Gospel come later*—added the famous statement of divine favor, descending directly from the heavens as they opened. But what does the voice say? In Mark, the voice says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” seeming to inform a Jesus who doesn’t yet know that this is so. But some early versions of Luke have the voice quoting Psalm 2: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Only in Matthew does it announce Jesus’ divinity to the world as though it were an ancient, fixed agreement, not a new act. In Mark, for that matter, the two miraculous engines that push the story forward at the start and pull it toward Heaven at the end—the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection—make no appearance at all. The story begins with Jesus’ adult baptism, with no hint of a special circumstance at his birth, and there is actually some grumbling by Jesus about his family (“Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor,” he complains); it ends with a cry of desolation as he is executed—and then an enigmatic and empty tomb. (It’s left to the Roman centurion to recognize him as the Son of God after he is dead, while the verses in Mark that show him risen were apparently added later.)
The intractable complexities of fact produce the inevitable ambiguities of faith. The more one knows, the less one knows. Was Jesus a carpenter, or even a carpenter’s son? The Greek word tekto¯n, long taken to mean “carpenter,” could mean something closer to a stoneworker or a day laborer. (One thinks of the similar shadings of a word like “printer,” which could refer to Ben Franklin or to his dogsbody.) If a carpenter, then presumably he was an artisan. If a stoneworker, then presumably he spent his early years as a laborer, schlepping from Nazareth to the grand Greco-Roman city of Sepphoris, nearby, to help build its walls and perhaps visit its theatre and agora. And what of the term “Son of Man,” which he uses again and again in Mark, mysteriously: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” As Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in his new, immensely ambitious and absorbing history, “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” (Viking; $45), the phrase, which occurs in the Gospels “virtually exclusively in the reported words of Jesus,” certainly isn’t at all the same as the later “Son of God,” and may merely be Aramaic for “folks like us.”
Belief remains a bounce, faith a leap. Still, the appetite for historical study of the New Testament remains a publishing constant and a popular craze. Book after book—this year, ten in one month alone—appears, seeking the Truth. Paul Johnson has a sound believer’s life, “Jesus: A Biography from a Believer,” while Paul Verhoeven, the director of “Basic Instinct,” has a new skeptical-scholar’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth” (Seven Stories; $23.95). Verhoeven turns out to be a member of the Jesus Seminar, a collection mostly of scholars devoted to reconstructing the historical Jesus, and much of what he has to say is shrewd and learned. (An odd pull persists between box-office and Biblical study. A few years ago, another big action-film director and producer, James Cameron, put himself at the center of a documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”)
What the amateur reader wants, given the thickets of uncertainty that surround the garden, is not what the passionate polemicists want—not so much a verdict on whether Jesus was nasty or nice as a sense of what, if anything, was new in his preaching. Was the cult that changed the world a product of Paul’s evangelism and imperial circumstance and the military embrace of one miracle-mystery cult among many such around? Or was there really something new, something unheard of, that can help explain the scale of what happened later? Did the rise of Christendom take place because historical plates were moving, with a poor martyred prophet caught between, or did one small pebble of parable and preaching start the avalanche that ended the antique world?
Ever since serious scholarly study of the Gospels began, in the nineteenth century, its moods have ranged from the frankly skeptical—including a “mythicist” position that the story is entirely made up—to the credulous, with some archeologists still holding that it is all pretty reliable, and tombs and traces can be found if you study the texts hard enough. The current scholarly tone is, judging from the new books, realist but pessimistic. While accepting a historical Jesus, the scholarship also tends to suggest that the search for him is a little like the search for the historical Sherlock Holmes: there were intellectual-minded detectives around, and Conan Doyle had one in mind in the eighteen-eighties, but the really interesting bits—Watson, Irene Adler, Moriarty, and the Reichenbach Falls—were, even if they all had remote real-life sources, shaped by the needs of storytelling, not by traces of truth. Holmes dies because heroes must, and returns from the dead, like Jesus, because the audience demanded it. (The view that the search for the historical Jesus is like the search for the historical Superman—that there’s nothing there but a hopeful story and a girlfriend with an alliterative name—has by now been marginalized from the seminaries to the Internet; the scholar Earl Doherty defends it on his Web site with grace and tenacity.)
The American scholar Bart Ehrman has been explaining the scholars’ truths for more than a decade now, in a series of sincere, quiet, and successful books. Ehrman is one of those best-selling authors like Richard Dawkins and Robert Ludlum and Peter Mayle, who write the same book over and over—but the basic template is so good that the new version is always worth reading. In his latest installment, “Jesus, Interrupted” (HarperOne; $15.99), Ehrman once again shares with his readers the not entirely good news he found a quarter century ago when, after a fundamentalist youth, he went to graduate school: that all the Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death; that all were written in Greek, which Jesus and the apostles didn’t speak and couldn’t write (if they could read and write at all); and that they were written as testaments of faith, not chronicles of biography, shaped to fit a prophecy rather than report a profile.
The odd absences in Mark are matched by the unreal presences in the other Gospels. The beautiful Nativity story in Luke, for instance, in which a Roman census forces the Holy Family to go back to its ancestral city of Bethlehem, is an obvious invention, since there was no Empire-wide census at that moment, and no sane Roman bureaucrat would have dreamed of ordering people back to be counted in cities that their families had left hundreds of years before. The author of Luke, whoever he might have been, invented Bethlehem in order to put Jesus in David’s city. (James Tabor, a professor of religious studies, in his 2006 book “The Jesus Dynasty,” takes surprisingly seriously the old Jewish idea that Jesus was known as the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Pantera—as well attested a tradition as any, occurring in Jewish texts of the second century, in which a Jesus ben Pantera makes several appearances, and the name is merely descriptive, not derogatory. Tabor has even found, however improbably, a tombstone in Germany for a Roman soldier from Syria-Palestine named Pantera.)
What seems a simple historical truth is that all the Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the First Jewish-Roman War, in 70 C.E.—a catastrophe so large that it left the entire Jesus movement in a crisis that we can dimly imagine if we think of Jewish attitudes before and after the Holocaust: the scale of the tragedy leads us to see catastrophe as having been built into the circumstance. As L. Michael White’s “Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite” (HarperOne; $28.99) explains in daunting scholarly detail, even Mark—which, coming first, might seem to be closest to the truth—was probably written in the ruins of the Temple and spiritually shaped to its desolate moment. Mark’s essential point, he explains, is about secrecy: Jesus keeps telling people to be quiet about his miracles, and confides only to an inner circle of disciples. With the Temple gone, White says, it was necessary to persuade people that the grotesque political failure of Jesus’ messianism wasn’t a real failure. Mark invents the idea that Jesus’ secret was not that he was the “Davidic” messiah, the Arthur-like returning king, but that he was someone even bigger: the Son of God, whose return would signify the end of time and the birth of the Kingdom of God. The literary critic Frank Kermode, in “The Genesis of Secrecy” (1979), a pioneering attempt to read Mark seriously as poetic literature, made a similar point, though his is less historical than interpretative. Kermode considers Mark to be, as the French would say, a text that reads itself: the secret it contains is that its central figure is keeping a secret that we can never really get. It is an intentionally open-ended story, prematurely closed, a mystery without a single solution.
Even if we make allowances for Mark’s cryptic tracery, the human traits of his Jesus are evident: intelligence, short temper, and an ironic, duelling wit. What seems new about Jesus is not his piety or divine detachment but the humanity of his irritability and impatience. He’s no Buddha. He gets annoyed at the stupidity of his followers, their inability to grasp an obvious point. “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” he asks the hapless disciples. The fine English actor Alec McCowen used to do a one-man show in which he recited Mark, complete, and his Jesus came alive instantly as a familiar human type—the Gandhi-Malcolm-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design. A story about a vineyard whose ungrateful husbandmen keep killing the servants sent to them is an anti-establishment, even an anti-clerical story, but it isn’t so obvious as to get him in trouble. The suspicious priests keep trying to catch him out in a declaration of anti-Roman sentiment: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not, they ask—that is, do you recognize Roman authority or don’t you? He has a penny brought out, sees the picture of the emperor on it, and, shrugging, says to give to the state everything that rightly belongs to the state. The brilliance of that famous crack is that Jesus turns the question back on the questioner, in mock-innocence. Why, you give the king the king’s things and God God’s. Of course, this leaves open the real question: what is Caesar’s and what is God’s? It’s a tautology designed to evade self-incrimination.
Jesus’ morality has a brash, sidewise indifference to conventional ideas of goodness. His pet style blends the epigrammatic with the enigmatic. When he makes that complaint about the prophet having no honor in his own home town, or says exasperatedly that there is no point in lighting a candle unless you intend to put it in a candlestick, his voice carries a disdain for the props of piety that still feels startling. And so with the tale of the boy who wastes his inheritance but gets a feast from his father, while his dutiful brother doesn’t; or the one about the weeping whore who is worthier than her good, prim onlookers; or about the passionate Mary who is better than her hardworking sister Martha. There is a wild gaiety about Jesus’ moral teachings that still leaps off the page. He is informal in a new way, too, that remains unusual among prophets. MacCulloch points out that he continually addresses God as “Abba,” Father, or even Dad, and that the expression translated in the King James Version as a solemn “Verily I say unto you” is actually a quirky Aramaic throat-clearer, like Dr. Johnson’s “Depend upon it, Sir.”
Some of the sayings do have, in their contempt for material prosperity, the ring of Greek Cynic philosophy, but there is also something neither quite Greek nor quite Jewish about Jesus’ morality that makes it fresh and strange even now. Is there a more miraculous scene in ancient literature than the one in John where Jesus absent-mindedly writes on the ground while his fellow-Jews try to entrap him into approving the stoning of an adulteress, only to ask, wide-eyed, if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the honor of throwing the first stone to be given to the man in the mob who hasn’t sinned himself? Is there a more compressed and charming religious exhortation than the one in the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus merrily recommends to his disciples, “Be passersby”? Too much fussing about place and home and ritual, and even about where, exactly, you’re going to live, is unnecessary: be wanderers, dharma bums.
This social radicalism still shines through—not a programmatic radicalism of national revolution but one of Kerouac-like satori-seeking-on-the-road. And the social radicalism is highly social. The sharpest opposition in the Gospels, the scholar and former priest John Dominic Crossan points out in his illuminating books—“The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” is the best known—is between John the Faster and Jesus the Feaster. Jesus eats and drinks with whores and highwaymen, turns water into wine, and, finally, in one way or another, establishes a mystical union at a feast through its humble instruments of bread and wine.
The table is his altar in every sense. Crossan, the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, makes a persuasive case that Jesus’ fressing was perhaps the most radical element in his life—that his table manners pointed the way to his heavenly morals. Crossan sees Jesus living within a Mediterranean Jewish peasant culture, a culture of clan and cohort, in which who eats with whom defines who stands where and why. So the way Jesus repeatedly violates the rules on eating, on “commensality,” would have shocked his contemporaries. He dines with people of a different social rank, which would have shocked most Romans, and with people of different tribal allegiance, which would have shocked most Jews. The most forceful of his sayings, still shocking to any pious Jew or Muslim, is “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.” Jesus isn’t a hedonist or an epicurean, but he clearly isn’t an ascetic, either: he feeds the multitudes rather than instructing them how to go without. He’s interested in saving people living normal lives, buying and selling what they can, rather than in retreating into the company of those who have already arrived at a moral conclusion about themselves.
To a modern reader, the relaxed egalitarianism of the open road and the open table can seem undermined by the other part of Jesus’ message, a violent and even vengeful prediction of a final judgment and a large-scale damnation. In Mark, Jesus is both a fierce apocalyptic prophet who is preaching the death of the world—he says categorically that the end is near—and a wise philosophical teacher who professes love for his neighbor and supplies advice for living. If the end is near, why give so much sage counsel? If human life is nearly over, why preach in such detail the right way to live? One argument is that a later, perhaps “unpersonified” body of Hellenized wisdom literature was tacked on to an earlier account of a Jewish messianic prophet. Since both kinds of literature—apocalyptic hysterics and stoic sayings—can be found all over the period, perhaps they were merely wrenched together.
And yet a single figure who “projects” two personae at the same time, or in close sequence, one dark and one dreamy, is a commonplace among charismatic prophets. That’s what a charismatic prophet is: someone whose aura of personal conviction manages to reconcile a hard doctrine with a humane manner. The leaders of the African-American community before the civil-rights era, for instance, had to be both prophets and political agitators to an oppressed and persecuted people in a way not unlike that of the real Jesus (and all the other forgotten zealots and rabbis whom the first-century Jewish historian Josephus names and sighs over). They, too, tended to oscillate between the comforting and the catastrophic. Malcolm X was the very model of a modern apocalyptic prophet-politician, unambiguously preaching violence and a doctrine of millennial revenge, all fuelled by a set of cult beliefs—a hovering U.F.O., a strange racial myth. But Malcolm was also a community builder, a moral reformer (genuinely distraught over the sexual sins of his leader), who refused to carry weapons, and who ended, within the constraints of his faith, as some kind of universalist. When he was martyred, he was called a prophet of hate; within three decades of his death—about the time that separates the Gospels from Jesus—he could be the cover subject of a liberal humanist magazine like this one. One can even see how martyrdom and “beatification” draws out more personal detail, almost perfectly on schedule: Alex Haley, Malcolm’s Paul, is long on doctrine and short on details; thirty years on, Spike Lee, his Mark, has a full role for a wife and children, and a universalist message that manages to blend Malcolm into Mandela. (As if to prove this point, just the other week came news of suppressed chapters of Haley’s “Autobiography,” which, according to Malcolm’s daughter, “showed too much of my father’s humanity.”)
As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like. Still, a real, unchangeable difference does exist between what might be called storytelling truths and statement-making truths—between what makes credible, if sweeping, sense in a story and what’s required for a close-knit metaphysical argument. Certain kinds of truths are convincing only in a narrative. The idea, for instance, that the ring of power should be given to two undersized amateurs to throw into a volcano at the very center of the enemy’s camp makes sound and sober sense, of a kind, in Tolkien; but you would never expect to find it as a premise at the Middle Earth Military Academy. Anyone watching Hamlet will find his behavior completely understandable—O.K., I buy it; he’s toying with his uncle—though any critic thinking about it afterward will reflect that this behavior is a little nuts.
In Mark, Jesus’ divinity unfolds without quite making sense intellectually, and without ever needing to. It has the hypnotic flow of dramatic movement. The story is one of self-discovery: he doesn’t know who he is and then he begins to think he does and then he doubts and in pain and glory he dies and is known. The story works. But, as a proposition under scrutiny, it makes intolerable demands on logic. If Jesus is truly one with God, in what sense could he suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, horror, and so on? So we get the Jesus rendered in the Book of John, who doesn’t. But if he doesn’t suffer doubt, fear, exasperation, pain, and horror, in what sense is his death a sacrifice rather than just a theatrical enactment? A lamb whose throat is not cut and does not bleed is not really much of an offering.
None of this is very troubling if one has a pagan idea of divinity: the Son of God might then be half human and half divine, suffering and triumphing and working out his heroic destiny in the half-mortal way of Hercules, for instance. But that’s ruled out by the full weight of the Jewish idea of divinity—omnipresent and omniscient, knowing all and seeing all. If God he was—not some Hindu-ish avatar or offspring of God, but actually one with God—then God once was born and had dirty diapers and took naps. The longer you think about it, the more astounding, or absurd, it becomes. To be really believed at all, it can only be told again.
So the long history of the early Church councils that tried to make the tales into a theology is, in a way, a history of coming out of the movie confused, and turning to someone else to ask what just happened. This is the subject of Philip Jenkins’s “Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years” (HarperOne; $26.99). Jenkins explains what was at stake in the seemingly wacky wars over the Arian heresy—the question of whether Jesus the Son shared an essence with God the Father or merely a substance—which consumed the Western world through the second and third centuries. Was Jesus one with God in the sense that, say, Sean Connery is one with Daniel Craig, different faces of a single role, or in the sense that James Bond is one with Ian Fleming, each so dependent on the other that one cannot talk about the creation apart from its author? The passion with which people argued over apparently trivial word choices was, Jenkins explains, not a sign that they were specially sensitive to theology. People argued that way because they were part of social institutions—cities, schools, clans, networks—in which words are banners and pennants: who pledged to whom was inseparable from who said what in what words. It wasn’t that they really cared about the conceptual difference between the claim that Jesus and the Father were homoousian (same in essence) and the claim that the two were homoiousian (same in substance); they cared about whether the Homoousians or the Homoiousians were going to run the Church.
The effort to seal off the inspiration from the intolerance, nice Jesus from nasty Jesus, is very old. Jefferson compiled his own New Testament, with the ethical teachings left in and the miracles and damnations left out—and that familiar, outraged sense of the ugly duplicity of the Christian heritage is at the heart of Philip Pullman’s new plaint against it, “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” (Canongate; $24), in which the two aspects are neatly divided into twins borne by Mary. The wise Jesus is brother to the shrewd Christ. One leads to the nice Jewish boy, the other to Paul’s scary punitive God. Pullman, a writer of great skill and feeling, as he has shown in his magical children’s fantasies, feels the betrayal of Jesus by his brother Christ as a fundamental betrayal of humanity. He wants us to forget Christ and return to Jesus alone, to surrender miracles for morals. Pullman’s book, however, is not narrowly polemical; he also retells the parables and acts with a lucid simplicity that strips away the Pauline barnacles. His real achievement is to translate Jesus’ sayings into a simple, almost childlike English that would seem to have much of the sound we are told is present in the artless original Greek: “Those who make peace between enemies, those who solve bitter disputes—they will be blessed. . . . But beware, and remember what I tell you: there are some who will be cursed, who will never inherit the Kingdom of God. D’you want to know who they are? Here goes: Those who are rich will be cursed.”
If one thing seems clear from all the scholarship, though, it’s that Paul’s divine Christ came first, and Jesus the wise rabbi came later. This fixed, steady twoness at the heart of the Christian story can’t be wished away by liberal hope any more than it could be resolved by theological hair-splitting. Its intractability is part of the intoxication of belief. It can be amputated, mystically married, revealed as a fraud, or worshipped as the greatest of mysteries. The two go on, and their twoness is what distinguishes the faith and gives it its discursive dynamism. All faiths have fights, but, as MacCulloch shows at intricate, thousand-page length, few have so many super-subtle shadings of dogma: wine or blood, flesh or wafer, one God in three spirits or three Gods in one; a song of children, stables, psalms, parables, and peacemakers, on the one hand, a threnody of suffering, nails, wild dogs, and damnation and risen God, on the other. The two spin around each other throughout history—the remote Pantocrator of Byzantium giving way to the suffering man of the Renaissance, and on and on.
It is typical of this conundrum that, in the past century, the best Christian poet, W. H. Auden, and the greatest anti-Christian polemicist, William Empson, were exact contemporaries, close friends, and, as slovenly social types, almost perfectly interchangeable Englishmen. Auden chose Christianity for the absolute democracy of its vision—there is, in it, “neither Jew nor German, East nor West, boy nor girl, smart nor dumb, boss nor worker.” Empson, in the same period, beginning in the fatal nineteen-forties, became the most articulate critic of a morality reduced “to keeping the taboos imposed by an infinite malignity,” in which the reintroduction of human sacrifice as a sacred principle left the believer with “no sense either of personal honour or of the public good.” (In this case, though, where Auden saw a nice Christ, Empson saw a nasty Jesus.)
Beyond the words, we still hear that cry. The Passion is still the point. In Mark, Jesus’ arrest and execution feels persuasively less preordained and willed than accidental and horrific. Jesus seems to have an intimation of the circumstance he has found himself in—leading a rebellion against Rome that is not really a rebellion, yet doesn’t really leave any possibility of retreat—and some corner of his soul wants no part of it: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take away this cup from me.” Mel Gibson was roughed up for roughing up Jesus, in his “Passion of the Christ,” but, though Gibson can fairly be accused of fanaticism, he can’t be accused of unfairness: in the long history of human cruelty, crucifixion, practiced as a mass punishment by the Romans, was uniquely horrible. The victim was stripped, in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, then whipped bloody, and then left to die as slowly as possible in as public a manner as conceivable. (In a sign of just how brutal it was, Josephus tells us that he begged the Roman rulers for three of his friends to be taken off the cross after they had spent hours on it; one lived.) The victim’s legs were broken to bring death in a blaze of pain. And the corpse was generally left to be eaten by wild dogs. It was terrifying and ever-present.
Verhoeven, citing Crossan, offers an opening scene for a Jesus bio-pic which neatly underlines this point. He imagines a man being nailed to a cross, cries of agony, two companion crosses in view, and then we crane out to see two hundred crosses and two hundred victims: we are at the beginning of the story, the mass execution of Jewish rebels in 4 B.C., not the end. This was the Roman death waiting for rebels from the outset, and Jesus knew it. Jesus’ cry of desolation—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—though primly edited out or explained as an apropos quotation from the Psalms by later evangelists, pierces us even now from the pages of Mark, across all the centuries and Church comforts. The shock and pity of failure still resonates.
One thing, at least, the cry assures: the Jesus faith begins with a failure of faith. His father let him down, and the promise wasn’t kept. “Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God,” Jesus announced; but none of them did. Jesus, and Paul following him, says unambiguously that whatever is coming is coming soon—that the end is very, very near. It wasn’t, and the whole of what follows is built on an apology for what went wrong. The seemingly modern waiver, “Well, I know he said that, but he didn’t really mean it quite the way it sounded,” is built right into the foundation of the cult. The sublime symbolic turn—or the retreat to metaphor, if you prefer—begins with the first words of the faith. If the Kingdom of God proved elusive, he must have meant that the Kingdom of God was inside, or outside, or above, or yet to come, anything other than what the words seem so plainly to have meant.
The argument is the reality, and the absence of certainty the certainty. Authority and fear can circumscribe the argument, or congeal it, but can’t end it. In the beginning was the word: in the beginning, and in the middle, and right there at the close, Word without end, Amen. The impulse of orthodoxy has always been to suppress the wrangling as a sign of weakness; the impulse of more modern theology is to embrace it as a sign of life. The deeper question is whether the uncertainty at the center mimics the plurality of possibilities essential to liberal debate, as the more open-minded theologians like to believe, or is an antique mystery in a story open only as the tomb is open, with a mystery left inside, never to be entirely explored or explained. With so many words over so long a time, perhaps passersby can still hear tones inaudible to the more passionate participants. Somebody seems to have hoped so, once. ♦
*Correction, August 13, 2010: Not all the Gospels are named for disciples, as originally stated.
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center (FOZ) with Shimon Peres, former president of Israel, at the opening ceremony of FOZ Museum
On September 8, 2015, Shimon Perez, Israel's former president, prime minister and Noble Peace Prize winner delivered an address to leaders from within Israel, and dignitaries and guests from around the world attending the official opening of Jerusalem's newest museum, the Friends of Zion Heritage Center. In his remarks, the statesman, former President Shimon Perez, chairman of the international board of the Friends of Zion Museum (FOZ), clearly articulated a compelling message to an attentive audience.
Shimon Peres, former president of Israel, speaking at the opening ceremony of FOZ Museum
"The Talmud teaches us that 'he who saves one soul saved a whole world', these brave man and women, the righteous among nations, are not the heroes of the past. They are relevant for each one of us even today, when the state of Israel is in the shadow of a nuclear threat. We all owe them not only our existence here, but world's righteousness. It's a morality that keeps humans human. Throughout history, our people have enjoyed the support of many from all over the world - they are stars dotting in the dark skies of the diaspora. Shining brightly. Mike [Evans], your vision has come true today, your support and your family's support are now engraved here both in stones and in our heart. This place shall become a temple and a mount, unprecedented and unimaginable. A place where all will deliver prayers to the blue heavens, reminding us that each of us, all of us, were created in the image of the lord." -- Shimon Peres, former president of the State of Israel.
Opening Ceremony of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Israel
The new state-of-the-art museum in Jerusalem, captivates the interest of visitors with its cutting-edge technology, using custom-designed interactive audio-visual displays, 3D exhibits, stunning video mapping displays and unique lighting. A new world opens up from the moment a visitor enters the modern facility in the Jerusalem World Center - just a brief walking distance from the Old City Jerusalem.
Through Dr. Mike Evans' initiative, the Friends of Zion Heritage Center was built as a testimony to the thousands of non-Jewish people who assisted the Jewish nation during the last few generations, during the British Mandate, the Holocaust and in the days of the establishment of the State of Israel.
The museum's exhibits describe the contributions of the friends of Israel who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews who were persecuted throughout the world. Among them are former US president Harry Truman, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Professor George Bush - a relative of former US President George W. Bush, Orde Wingate, and the Righteous Among the Nations such as Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and the Ten Boom family.
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center
The Interview with Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center took place at the FOZ museum in Jerusalem on September 11, 2015:
Dr. Evans, your vision led to the launching of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem. How did you conceive this idea to build the Friends of Zion Museum and why in Jerusalem?
Mike Evans: In 1988 I restored a museum in Holland called the Corrie ten Boom Museum. The ten Booms were Dutch Christian Zionists. They were amazing people, very humble. They had a great love for the Jewish people. They were the clockmakers. Corrie ten Boom was the spinster who had taken care of children, retarded children and challenged children and she was the first woman clockmaker in Holland. Her grandfather in 1844 started the meetings in their clock shop for the Jewish people. The prime meeting was for the Jewish people - to stand with them, to defend them, and to pray that they would return to Zion. Now, 1844 was an amazing time to do that because it was not popular. This was even before Theodor Herzl. Every week, the ten Booms did it faithfully, and although they were criticized, they brought a lot of people to the clock shop. It lasted for 100 years. On the 100th anniversary, to the day, the Nazis came to the clock shop and they hauled them all to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The ten Booms were hiding Jews - they saved 800 Jewish people. The Nazis said to the old man Casper who was then 82 years old, "We will let you die in bed if you promise us, not to touch another Jew and bring him here." But, he replied, "I will consider it an honor to give my life for God's chosen people." And he did. He died in an unmarked grave. Betsie ten Boom died at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. The ten Boom family paid an enormous price.
There must be unique stories and testimonies of the 800 Jews saved by the ten Boom family. Did you talk to any of the Jews saved by the ten Boom family?
Mike Evans: I spoke at Yad Vashem ceremony for Betsie and Casper ten Boom with an Ambassador in the Netherlands. As I was speaking, a Jewish woman was crying and I asked her, "Are you O.K.?" "No, I am not O.K," she replied, "My mother and I - we went to the house to escape from the Nazis and my mother said, 'would you take a girl's watch and fix it?' That was the code to bring the girls - it was a clock shop. The old man Casper said "I must ask God'. And he went back in the house and I asked my mother, 'Is God in the house?' My mother said, 'I don't know.' He comes back and he said, 'God says yes!"
"So, they brought us in the house. I was Jew by my birth but I never went to the Passover, I never understood the Hebrew, I never sang Jewish songs - I was very secular. The ten Booms taught me to be a Jew. They celebrated the passover, I became a Jew in a Christian's home, in Christian Zionist home." And she was crying and she wanted to thank them.
This was in my museum in Haarlem where I am the chairman of the board. And when I restored it, I asked myself, "Why isn't this story told?"
Everyone knows the story about Anne Frank, but nobody knows the story of these Christian zionists who risked their lives trying to save the Franks. And then the rest of major Christian Zionists who helped build the State of Israel or did Messianic deeds - their stories are not known.
Generally speaking, the narrative of Christianity is bloody - it talks about the Crusaders, the pogroms, the holocaust, the inquisitions - so there is a tendency to forget that even though there was a darkness in the world, there were amazing heros who have amazing history. So I wanted to bring Corrie ten Boom and also others, all over the world and celebrate the heroes and the history, who have helped the Jewish people. Not just in the holocaust, but in the building the State of Israel.
Zionism has been mostly understood as an exclusively Jewish issue. In your opening remarks you mentioned that millions of Christians are faithful Zionists. Could you elaborate on this?
Mike Evans: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I don't believe that the Jewish State and Modern Zionism would have been possible without Christian Zionism." Now, that almost sounds like heresy, but it is the Prime Minister saying it. There are a number of streets named after Christian Zionists in Israel. But even Israelis don't know who they are. We thought that it is time to celebrate these amazing human beings who have done so many good deeds, for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel - and, so we did.
Michael Evans, vice-president of Friends of Zion Heritage Center
One truly experiences optimism and inspiration when visiting the FOZ museum. Individuals relay that there is a sense of hope and ownership in supporting the Jewish people and affirming the State of Israel as a sovereign nation.
Mike Evans: We had 17,000 Israelis go through the museum and when they come out of it, they say:
"We are not alone" - Because in the midst of Middle East you get the feeling that you are alone. You are fighting alone and especially, when you see what is going on even with the present U.S. administration with Iran and all that - you feel very alone. In Syria, you feel very alone. In Iraq, you feel alone. But they say - we are not alone.
And then they say, "We have hope". Because they realize that they have lots of friends. They focus some times on so many enemies that they forget that there are millions, tens of millions of friends like Emma. Emma, who is on our international board - her husband is a 4-star general in the Chinese navy. Now, Emma is a Christian Zionist in Beijng, China, and she loves the Jewish people. We have an Indonesian pastor, whose church has 30,000 members.
How did you meet these extraordinary individuals?
Mike Evans: They all come because of FOZ. There is only one place in the nation that you can go to, in order to celebrate your heroes and your history, and it's FOZ. So they all come here because they have heroes in history.
These are not the people that did bad deeds. A pastor in the largest Muslim country standing up saying I am a Christian Zionist - you pay a price for that. Emma, in Beijng, with a 4-star general husband - you pay a price for that, but these people are not afraid, and those two represent millions of Christian Zionists.
You know, Israel never really invested in building a bridge to these people. They love them, they appreciate them, but, Israel has been so busy, trying to unite the Jewish people , to build a nation - that they did not focus so much on this massive group of tens of millions of people worldwide. That is what we have been doing - that is our mission and vision, it is to unite them because they can be an enormous help to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center (FOZ) with Shimon Peres, former president of Israel, at the opening ceremony of FOZ Museum
Can you tell us more about the contributions and sacrifices of the friends of Israel which are exhibited in the museum?
Well, it goes back a long ways. If you just take a man like John Patterson.
Mike Evans: I began visiting the Prime Minister's father Benzion Netanyahu, in 1980. We have been friends for a long time. He was a brilliant scholar and the family is very brilliant. At their home, there was a silver cup which said, "To my darling godson, Jonathan, from your godfather, John Henry Patterson." This is Jonathan Netanyahu who was killed in Entebbe raid. And he was an inspiration for Bibi Netanyahu. He was his hero. Now, I looked at the silver cup and asked Benzion: "Who is that man?"
"Oh, he is a Christian. We called our son Jon, in honor of Patterson." Benzion replied.
"What, you name your Jewish son after a Christian?"
"He led the first Jewish fighting force in 2000 years, the Jewish Mule Brigade."
"What? Nobody knows this! A Christian leading a Jewish fighting force!"
"Yes, he was a godfather of Joni. Then he and I went to America to build support for a Jewish state - together, we did it! Before there was a republican and democrat platform for Israel. Before Harry Truman. John Patterson was my colleague, my hero - I loved him dearly".
Well, that is just one man. Then you go through the stories of Orde Wingate who Moshe Dayan was trained by. Another Christian zionist who would have been the Chief of staff, if there was such a thing at the time.
The first Friends of Zion Award was presented to President George W. Bush by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is international chair of the Friends of Zion Museum. What was the role of Professor George Bush in the 19th century? Has this legacy been known within the Bush family?
Mike Evans: When we presented our museum award with President Shimon Peres to President George W. Bush at the Presidential Library in Dulles - it was very lovely. It was a delightful time, and George Bush was honored for being awarded a Friend of Zion by our museum. Now, during the ceremony, I mentioned to him - you have a relative that goes back a long time, by the name of - George Bush. He knew about it. And this Professor George Bush was a Christian Zionist in 1844. He wrote a book on a Jewish state that sold one million copies - before the American Civil War. He did it before Thoedor Herzl. He did it!
A million copies! Now, in the publishing world, before the Internet, before television, that would be probably equal to 25 million copies today - unheard of. But this book impacted leaders of the world. I am sure that Herzl read the book. Professor Bush was a Hebrew professor and he said, "based upon Ezekiel 37, the Jewish people are going back to the land. The Land will be rebuilt, Jerusalem will be reunited, they will speak the Hebrew language. This is a Presbyterian professor, he was not even Jewish, and George Bush was his name.
When you look at Patterson or Orde Wingate or George Bush - there were so many - there are hundreds of them - amazing human beings who did amazing things for the Jewish people, even when no one else was talking about it.
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center (FOZ) with Natasha Srdoc, Co-Founder of the International Leaders Summit during the interview at FOZ
From your study and observations, how have Christian Zionists developed such an interest and love for Israel?
Mike Evans: Shimon Peres hosted President George W. Bush during the Future conference in Israel. I was there. Ehud Olmert was the Prime Minister at the time. So I am sitting behind George Bush and he is weeping. As Ehud is speaking, I see tears flowing down his face - a very tender man. What is it about George Bush that makes him love Israel so much? He is a Zionist. He believes the Bible. He learned in Sunday school the stories of the Jewish prophets and kings and priests. This is the narrative, for Christian Zionists, it is a Biblical narrative about ancient people coming home. And one of the things that unites all Christian Zionists is a prophecy of Abraham. Abraham gives this amazing word and he says, "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them who curse thee." It was God saying it to Abraham.
Now, all the Christian Zionists believe it with all their heart. They believe - if they bless the Jewish people, God will bless them. If they curse them, God will curse them. And they study history - they say look, the British opposed them. The British fought them. The British would not vote in favor of Jewish state. The British Empire does not exist any more - it is gone. The Roman Empire is gone. So they look at history of the ones who opposed them and they believe that God curses them. He did not bless them. And they believe that America has been blessed for blessing the Jewish people and Israel. That's the thing that unites all of them.
You addressed an ideological war against Israel and expressed concerns about BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign. You firmly pledged, "For every BDS activist who boycotts Israel, we shall rally for Israel 10 friends and supporters."
Mike Evans: Absolutely! The old wars - that America fought against the British when they would put their uniforms on, and they would stand, pound the drums and organize - are gone. The wars of the 20th century are gone. We are now in the 21st century.
Now, you have different wars. You have ideological wars. You have economic wars, where you have companies that have more money than countries. You have cyber wars with no cyberspace passport. So now you are living in a different world where different kind of wars are fought.
Israel cannot win any economic wars. They are a tiny economy compared to the global superpowers. They cannot win ideological wars. How can you win the war of ideas in a world of ideas? That's like a Goliath.
How can you tell who wants to hurt you or hate you?
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center (FOZ)
The Jewish people are not killed here over land. I have been to probably 100 funerals of Jewish people. I remember a woman, one evening - I went to the funeral of her daughter. And she told me, "The only way I knew it was my daughter was - her nails. Because everything was blown up, but one hand, and I did her nails that morning. So I saw, this was my daughter, by her nails."
When I met with these people, everyone of them said the same thing - they kill us because we are Jews. They do not kill them over land, they are Jews! If a Jew makes a mistake and it ends up in the middle of Hebron or Gaza, they are probably going to be dead. If they are identified as a Jew they will probably kill them. So people are killing them over who they are. Now, what does Israel do? How does Israel overcome this? They can't, without friends! It is impossible!
This is much bigger an existential threat that an nuclear Iran. This is huge! Right now, there are groups in Gaza who just pledged their support to ISIS. They just joined ISIS. In Gaza? This is right here! ISIS is in Syria. Israel's borders are being surrounded by radical Islam. Israel has no ability to overcome these existential dilemmas without friends.
But, Israel has millions of friends. There are probably more than a half of a billion Christian Zionists in the world. They are basically people who believe the Bible. That's all. They may not agree on the politics, but they believe the Bible. And they believe in Zion. And they believe the promises of the Bible. Well these are Christian Zionists. And being united, they can be an enormous help to Israel defeating BDS, overcoming economic dilemmas, dealing with these spirit wars. It can be an enormous force for this nation. And the nation needs it.
Because when you feel so overwhelmed, what do you do? You apologize. Rather than celebrating what you have, you apologize for it. then you spend all your time trying to apologize. For what? Why should you be apologizing - for surviving the holocaust, for sacrificing to build the nation - why should you apologize for that? You should not have to.
Shimon Peres, former president of the State of Israel, Joel Anand Samy and Natasha Srdoc, co-founders of the International Leaders Summit
It was wonderful to meet with President Shimon Peres at FOZ's opening ceremony. He is a true statesman who played a vital role in affirming our common civilization based on the rule of law for the last several decades. How did you recruit Shimon Peres, former president, prime minister and Nobel Prize Winner to join your Board?
Mike Evans: Shimon Peres came and supported us because he wanted to make friends. And he said, "It takes so much more energy to make enemies and sustain them, than friends. I want to make friends." And here is President Shimon Peres having a dinner, and sitting between Emma and the Indonesian Pastor of 30,000. He wants to. He knew the former prime minister of Indonesia. He wants to make as many friends as he can.
Could you tell us more about FOZ's Ambassador Program that you launched?
Mike Evans: The FOZ Heritage center is a multifaceted phase program.
We launched the museum, which is considered, the highest tech museum per square foot in the world, using Disney and Pixar technology for the size. In addition to that, our vision and plan is to have a communication center where we can communicate real time with tens of millions of Christian Zionists so that we can unify them, we can activate them and mobilize them.
Secondly, a research institute. Israel does not know who its friends are. They need to know who their friends are. And we are going to provide that with the research. We are not paid, they do not give us any money. We do this because we believe in it.
And thirdly, we are establishing the Ambassador Institute.
We are going to train ambassadors, we are going to use mobile technology, adaptive learning technology, and we are going to have the same type of an Ambassador program, similar in many ways that Israel would have for its ambassadors.
Dr. Mike Evans, founder of FOZ, with Emma (in the middle), and guests at the FOZ opening ceremony
For example, the chair that you are sitting in, Emma came with a large Chinese delegation through FOZ. Emma is not a Jew, she is a Christian Zionist and her husband is a 4-star general in the Chinese navy. The entire Chinese delegation of 30 individuals that came with her was crying throughout the entire show. And Emma's big dream is to become an ambassador of Israel to China.
So, we will find thousands of Emmas throughout the world. We will train them to be ambassadors for Israel, but in their countries - because that is where the real war has to be fought. The economic war and the ideological war. We will do it in the Middle East also. All over the Middle East. We will do it in Africa, Asia, all over the world.
There are amazing people around the world, intellectuals, professionals, people that do not have ulterior motives. They really mean it - they want to stand with you. And there are tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, and those are the ones that we are going to find, and we are going to train to do this.
Can those who are not able to come to Jerusalem to visit the museum in person, visit the museum virtually?
Mike Evans: Yes, the whole museum is online. The visitors/users can use 3D virtual technology. if they go to www.fozhc.org, it's at no charge. They can go through all the museum, and enjoy it like they would, if they came through it here. And people are loving that. Now, we are at 17 languages.
Follow Natasha Srdoc on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NatashaSrdoc