Jesus materialized through the back wall of the Holy of Holies and soon stood a few feet away.
“Yo!” Candy greeted Him matter-of-factly.
“Whadup?” Honey and Taffy said indifferently, casually moving closer.
“You’re not surprised to see Me?” He asked.
“We heard You were hanging around the school yard,” said a blasé Honey.
“We figured we were low on Your visiting list because we’re girls,” said Taffy. “ — or cheerleaders.”
“Most people think cheerleaders are airheads,” Candy explained.
Jesus wiped a tear from His cheek. “That hurts,” He confessed.
“Awww.” The three girls crowded together to give Him a group hug.
“Thanks,” He said, “I needed that. I’ve just finished meeting with Hunk, Meat, and Moose. Are they high maintenance!”
“You’re telling us,” Candy exclaimed.
The girls sat on the edge of the platform, and Jesus pulled up a big box and sat down.
“You speak English slang just like we do,” said Honey.
“I’m known for miracles. That’s what drew the crowds that freaked Me out. This time I max out at a dozen observers. I surprised myself with Cheney. Talk about a monster with ice in his veins!”
“We heard about Cheney’s red horns, pointed ears, and forked tail,” said Candy. “That was cool. We were really disappointed You didn’t include us in Your viewing audience.”
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” He apologized. “Consider My timing with you a compliment. I wait until folks are ready to make their own unique leaps. Then I bop in, give them a little boost, and — presto — I’m out of here. The three of you are quite advanced learners.”
“Cool!” they said in unison, warming with the compliment.
“I’ll do a party trick for you before I leave,” He offered. “Just don’t ask for an unclean spirits number. Those are effective but really emotionally draining.”
“Sorry we accused you of sexism,” said Candy.
“It wasn’t personal,” Honey explained.
“It’s the Bible,” Taffy confessed.
“I know!” Jesus snapped. “The Bible’s homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism are harder to bear than the heaviest cross.”
“Really!” the girls exclaimed, still revved from Tuesday’s stimulating rap session outside in the temple plaza with Maxine Einstein and her aunt Katrina.
Honey said, “We talked about Leviticus’ sexism yesterday—”
“I know,” said Jesus. “I was there. Women are so cool!”
He seemed on the verge of tears again.
“You can’t appreciate the pain that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John caused Me! They shortchanged My wife, Mary Magdalene. Only a few hints are there: the loving wife claiming her husband’s body from the tomb, how she sat at My feet and adoringly washed them. What a joy after a day on dusty roads in open sandals hounded by needy people, publicity seekers, and stool pigeons!
“And — my God! — the way Mary is slandered in your Bible!” He added. “Not a shred of evidence in the Gospels for it. Can you imagine My anger when I discovered that folks have been calling My wife a prostitute for two thousand years?”
“Wow!” exclaimed the girls. Of course they could easily imagine the anger.
“If we weren’t Christian cheerleaders,” Taffy said, displaying her virginity ring, “most guys would assume we’re easy lays.”
The girls had all memorized the names of the books of the Bible. Only two out of sixty-six were written by women. How many women in the Bible showed the strength of character of the women they admired in their own lives? Sarah? Ruth and Naomi? That was it.
“Most of the women in the Bible are happy housewives, lying scumbags, or sleazy hookers,” Taffy pointed out.
“If they’re not horny temptresses, nameless concubines, or group wives,” Candy added. “Eve, Bathsheba, Jezebel — think about it! And men today are the ones who insist the Bible is literally true! Hello? Rampant Christian sexism — big surprise!”
“The exception is Mary of the immaculate conception,” Honey scoffed. “My mom’s a midwife. We’re all virgins, you know, but mom says there’s no such thing as an immaculate conception! They’re all messy.”
“Immaculate conception — what’s that suggest about women’s sexuality?” Taffy asked. “Our big role model: the squeaky clean baby machine with none of the joys of sex. The rest of us women are dirty compost piles waiting for the holy male seed. Jesus, how did the Bible wind up so anti-woman?”
Jesus said, “I’m no expert, because much of the scriptural corruption happened after My time. But the Bible does reflect the dominant male culture I inherited, with polygamous patriarchs, sexist prophets, slave-owners, and concubine collectors. If I had to cite the biggest flaw in Scripture, it’s the lack of feminine voices. Think of the insights of a Book of Sarah or a Gospel of Mary Magdalene! Here and there—especially in the words of Paul—you’ll find hints of the equality we practiced, but most of the real history was airbrushed by the usual suspects.
“After I was gone, you can thank the sneaky little scribes, self-castrating monks, church ‘fathers,’ vainglorious emperors, grubby popes, and women-hating evangelists who transformed My egalitarian message into their self-serving franchises. Lost in the shuffle were the divine feminine qualities that I love — sharing rather than possessing, cooperation rather competition, mutual support rather than individual domination.”
“Even today the same stupid old farts — excuse my Aramaic — seek to ban women as priests, ministers, and rabbis. Obviously they have never discovered that the true God is not exclusively My father! And not My mother either! Any God worth worshipping is both male and female because true goodness consists in the best qualities of both. The worst televangelist on this score is that little toad, Reverend John Hagee — calling Me ‘limp wristed’!”
“We know about him,” said Candy.
“He loves photographs of nuclear mushroom clouds for the cover art on his books,” Honey explained.
“He may have trouble getting his own little mushroom up,” Taffy quipped. “Oops!”
When Jesus stopped laughing, He turned serious.
“Only you women can rectify the perversion of My message. Only you can overcome the repressed, distorted, and silenced voices — and only by raising your own voices and refusing to be muzzled.”
Candy, Honey, and Taffy leaned forward, avidly listening to Jesus’ startling and heartening message.
“Open the fertile wombs of your female imaginations!” he declared. “Therein lies the promise of the survival of humankind and the destruction of your new Roman Empire.”
Candy was on the verge of tears. “Jesus, you are so super cool!”
“Heavenly!” Honey cried.
“I worship you!” Taffy declared.
“Thanks,” Jesus said. “It’s so good to be appreciated for who I really am, not the unflattering caricatures of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and false prophets. ‘Limp-wristed’ indeed! I could arm wrestle that little Hagee toad under the table.”
The women, like the athletes, noted the firm musculature under the carpenter’s robes.
“We don’t have much time, girls. The boys will be heading down to the chapel soon. The biggest challenge is yet to come. The men lack your strength and compassion so they’ll need your guidance.”
At that moment the quiet intimacy was shattered by rude banging outside the door.
“Men have no respect for a holy sanctuary!” Candy quipped.
Jesus rose to disappear.
“Whoa!” Honey objected, “when can we talk to You again?”
“Sweetheart, you don’t need Me. You women already have what it takes!”
“Please,” Honey begged, rising to take His hands. “What’s your position on abortion?”
“Unnecessary,” Jesus answered quickly. “Sex is first about the joy of love, not about procreation. The world has more than enough children. Tens of thousands of them die every day from poverty and neglect. Can you imagine my having to suffer personally the death of every emaciated child and then watch these well-fed, so-called Christians parading around with their ‘Right to Life’ placards? Don’t create another baby unless you can guarantee her the best life that God has to offer.”
“What if we get pregnant?” Candy asked.
“Unnecessary,” Jesus answered. “God made sure that all the human orifices connected to the outside world give us pleasure when stimulated. Combine love, respect, and desire with imagination! There are an almost infinite variety of lovemaking techniques that satisfy desire but avoid pregnancy.”
The girls were speechless. They knew they would remain devout and happy Christians until the end of their lives.
“I tend to be paranoid,” Maxine confessed, stunned by Jesus’ appearance.
“I’ll try not to feed that,” Jesus promised.
“For instance,” she added, “I hope there were no Judases at tonight’s meeting.”
He saw the worry lines cross her face.
“I just don’t know about Miss Bowdler, the old school librarian,” she elaborated.
“Judases?” He repeated.
“You know, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed You.”
“Oh that crazy story!” He exclaimed with a scowl. “Look, I didn’t have a disciple named Judas Iscariot, and none of them betrayed Me. Another case of the Gospel writers currying favor with the Romans to prevent imperial persecution of their little Christian communities.”
“No one betrayed You?” Maxine asked, with a puzzled look.
“Of course not,” He replied, clearly offended personally by the insinuation. “I chose My disciples carefully from the poorest toilers. Of all people, Maxine, I would have expected that someone with your skeptical mind and sensitive antennae would have spotted the mark of anti-Semitism on a sinister character named Judas.”
“The Greek form for Judah, or the Jewish homeland!” she exclaimed.
Her mind was racing through the handful of Biblical passages — in Greek and English — that told the sketchy story of the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish priestly class, that led, in turn, to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
Jesus continued, “I mean the quaint story of Judas’ kiss to identify Me in the garden is great theater, but silly. Why would a stingy priest waste thirty pieces of silver to identify a guy whom every priest in Jerusalem could spot even if he was blind drunk? Jerusalem wasn’t much bigger than Eternal Memory Beach at the time. And those pesky priests and their flunkies had been hounding Me for three years with those trick questions about Leviticus and Numbers. Why would they even need to look for Me? They could simply follow the crowd.”
“No Judas at all?” Maxine asked, with a detective’s curiosity.
She felt exhilarated with the challenge. All day she’d been lecturing high school students and a teacher with a hundredth-part of her knowledge. Finally she had met an intellectual match. She began to cite references from memorized texts.
“Come to think of it, You’re right. John’s Gospel refers to a faithful disciple named Judas who was not evil or a traitor. Luke refers to Judas, the brother of John, distinct from Iscariot. I got it! Mark started the story, and Matthew and Luke repeated it.”
She recalled that Paul died after Jesus but a decade before the first Gospel was written.
“So Paul’s the best authority, right?”
“I guess so,” Jesus replied, slightly dazed by Maxine’s virtuosity. “Remember,” He reminded her, “I’m working off the ‘New Testament’. That’s someone else’s playbook, not Mine. Trying to find the real Me in the four Gospels helps Me understand why your celebrities today are finicky about their biographers.”
Maxine was impatient. “Paul was closest in time even though he never knew You. The Gospel writers lived decades after You died. So, logically, we’d expect Paul to be the most reliable source, right.”
“Okay,” said Jesus, as engaged as Maxine. He hadn’t had this much fun since He’d sparred with His Aramaic-speaking friends in Nazareth over the summer.
Maxine remembered only one indirect reference to Judas Iscariot in all of Paul’s writings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-24. The epistle describes the Last Supper: ‘For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread—’
“But,” she observed, “the original Greek word could be translated as easily as ‘handed over,’ as ‘betrayed,’ and there is no reference anywhere in Paul’s writings to Judas or any disciple betraying anyone!”
She added that, in the same epistle, Paul refers to Jesus appearing to all twelve disciples after the resurrection.
She couldn’t stop. “Matthew, writing decades later, reduced Paul’s figure to eleven. Even Luke refers to the disciples presiding over the twelve tribes of Israel. He doesn’t say that one of the disciples presided over two tribes to make up for a dead Judas. In addition, the Bible contradicts itself about Judas’ death — a sure sign of textual tampering.” She quoted the two conflicting passages:
And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, [Judas] departed; and he went and hanged himself.
— Matthew 27:5
Now [Judas] bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
She quipped, “Obviously Judas couldn’t have died both ways, and no one claimed he was resurrected.”
“You’re good — really good,” said Jesus, with an appreciative smile. “You know how to make the connections just like your Grandpa Albert. It’s such a relief not to have to explain everything like I had to do with the disciples.”
Maxine pressed him. “So is that the way You read the chapters and verses on Judas?”
“Hold on!” said Jesus. “ ‘Chapters and verses’? I didn’t speak with little numbers between My sentences. There were no numbers, chapters, or verses for hundreds of years after I was dead. We didn’t even know what ‘numbers’ were. The Arabs invented them. In Aramaic — the language I spoke — and Hebrew, we used letters to stand for numbers just like the Romans did. And Maxine, you surely know that I’m no scribe.”
Maxine noticed the embarrassment.
“I couldn’t read or write,” He admitted, “then or now, so cut Me a little slack.”
“Sorry.” She resisted the temptation to walk around the bench and give Him a sympathetic hug.
“I’m visual and intuitive rather than literal,” He confessed. “I pick up things through listening.”
Jesus said that everything He knew about the “Bible” He learned from recent “Bible classes” in Palestine with His Aramaic-speaking friends.
He’d learned that the contents of today’s New Testament were the product of intense debates among Christians for hundreds of years after the events described. Among other questions, these included whether Jesus was a man, a God, or a combination of both. Thousands of “gospels” and “epistles” passed among the Christian communities scattered around the Mediterranean. Each document claimed divine authenticity. The final canon of what is now called the New Testament only took shape four hundred years after His death.
“Anyway,” He added, “what people believe happened can be more powerful than what really happened. Shepherd’s Vale School sure beat that into My head!”
“How did they twist Your life?” Maxine asked, resisting the temptation to reach across the table to touch Jesus’ hands.
“Well, I love the story of My replacing the guy’s ear after Peter supposedly cut it off. Unlike some of the stuff they made up, that little tale does illustrate the spirit of My basic message: love your enemies and turn the other cheek. But the Judas myth was all political.”
He explained that many of the changes in the Gospels resulted from the hundreds of years of heated debates over His divinity and the relationship between Christians and Jews. During that period most of the men who scratched the multiple transcriptions on scrolls were avid partisans in the raging debates and were not even professional scribes. Most important, as a minority religion competing with many others, Christianity required a compelling narrative that proved Jesus was truly divine and the only son of God.
“You were crucified after being questioned by the Romans and Jews?”
“You weren’t put on trial?”
“Believe me, Maxine, there wasn’t any Judge Judy or Perry Mason in those days!”
“Crucifixion — what a horrible way to die!”
Jesus shrugged. “Revolutionaries rarely die in their sleep. Your little sister Tina told me the story of Martin Luther King. The slave owners shot Abraham Lincoln. Emperor Stalin cleft Leon Trotsky’s mighty brain with a mountain pick. Empires don’t take kindly to freeing people from bondage. And, after centuries of armed Jewish resistance, the Romans really hated Jews!”
Maxine slowly registered the significance of her startling insights about Judas.
“You’re telling me that that the Jewish Christians made up Judas just like they made up the story that ‘we’ — Jews — killed you?”
Jesus laughed. “I’m just telling you what happened — as a major participant. We can only speculate about the colorful stories they made up after I was gone. Right?”
Suddenly Maxine lost her joviality. She began to feel the return of the rage she’d hurled at Hunk, Meat, and Moose on the Temple Mount.
“Colorful stories — Jesus! Do you realize how many Jewish people died horrible deaths for two millennia — from Emperor Nero to Adolf Hitler — because of the myth that a Jew betrayed You and the Jewish people cried for Your crucifixion with the stupid chant, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’?”
Jesus agreed. “Why would God have inspired Judas to betray Me and Jews to kill Me knowing the deeds would be used to murder millions of Jews? Believe me, Maxine, God is not an anti-Semite!”
Jesus cast her a look that said, “Now you know why I’m here.”
Maxine took a deep breath. “What’s going to happen when the American people realize the truth — not a myth — that Paul Wolfowitz and a few dozen of his Jewish disciples conned us into a catastrophic worldwide religious war that collapsed the world economy, stripped us of our freedoms, and destroyed our way of life? What’s going to happen when they discover that he was working for leaders of the Jewish state who are more corrupt than the worst anti-Semitic caricatures in the Gospels?”
Jesus replied, “What’s going to happen when the American people realize that your corrupt Jews could never have succeeded without the collaboration of thousands of my corrupt Christian preachers who sold millions of their followers a vile perversion of My Scripture?”
“Evil!” Maxine gasped.
“Evil,” Jesus agreed. “What could be more evil than manipulating goodhearted people’s religious beliefs to fool them into violating both their cherished principles and their basic interests?”
“The Christians are you’re responsibility,” Maxine snapped, taking comfort in the discrepancy between the number of evil Jews and the number of evil Christians involved in the plot under discussion.
“That’s why I’m here,” Jesus said. “And you, Maxine?”
“Well, Norma and I are going to try to protest Paul Wolfowitz at the memorial ceremony. The other people who were here know what we’re going to do. They will try to give us support, although our feeble gesture will probably wind up a complete fiasco.”
Jesus reached for her hands. She was surprised by their warmth. He said, “You’re a remarkable sixteen-year-old, Maxine. Everything that has occurred in your short but prodigious life has prepared you for tomorrow. Don’t underestimate your powers of persuasion or leadership abilities. If you discredit Wolfowitz and his Jewish neo-conservatives tomorrow, I will try to minimize the Gentile backlash.”
“Good,” she said, squeezing his hands. “We need all the Christian support we can get.”
“Please Maxine! I’m doing this as a Jew.” He added with intentional irony, “If I died for the Jewish people’s sins like the story says, millions more don’t have to follow in My footsteps!”
Her eyes appealed to His. “Will You be with us at school tomorrow?”
“In spirit,” He replied. “I don’t do crowds anymore.”