The realization that Jesus was a gay Jew came to me at the end of a decade of research. A year ago I was forced to answer the question, “What do you really believe happened?”
I’ve known for years that some people believed that Jesus was gay, but I thought that since conservatives saw a conservative Jesus, and liberals saw a liberal Jesus, and communists saw a communist Jesus, that apparently some gays and lesbians simply saw a gay Jesus.
I once blogged about the John the Beloved Disciple. I acknowledged that some of the language surrounding “the apostle Jesus loved”, how John put his head on Jesus’ bosom (John 13:23) was highly suggestive, very persuasive. But it didn’t seem to be what’s called “proof”.
Some people have suggested that I have been a victim of confirmation bias, that I simply interpreted what I read in Luke 17:34-35 to fit what I wanted to believe. Few of them will be disabused of the idea, and it’s okay that they believe that.
What did I do? I looked in the evidence box with a fresh pair of eyes, read the notes of previous investigators, studied some previously inaccessible trial transcripts, and checked the newspaper archive. When I started this investigation I didn’t know where it would lead.
Someone had drawn my attention to Luke 17:34, and I was astonished. “Why didn’t I see that before? Two men in one bed.” No way was I convinced though, that the couples were gay and lesbian. I just knew it was a possibility. I knew that if this were true, it would take more than a casual comment like, “I think they might be gay.”
After months of digging into the evidence, I repeatedly expressed my excitement to Diane. Even then I doubted that I had proven the gendered pairs were same-sex couples.
When I was finally convinced, by the evidence, I was excited, then appalled, appalled for days. I walked around the house muttering, “Jesus used gutter language to talk about lesbian sex.” I was disgusted.
At one point in 2009 I told my wife, “I don’t think I can write about this. I just can’t.” After a week I reminded myself that the Hebrew Bible used “grind” sexually in many places, so by definition the sexual idiom “grind” was acceptable. If the word is in the Bible, it’s acceptable, right?
Phase I concluded this way, “Luke 17:34-35 refers to two gay and lesbian couples. But I don’t know what it’s about–yet.”
Phase II began with me learning that Yohanan b. Zakkai (Ribaz) was stationed in Galilee at the same time Jesus was reportedly active there. Ribaz was the chief Pharisee in Galilee, furthering the interests of the Jerusalem temple-state in Upper Galilee (northern Palestine). Some decades later, after the destruction of Jerusalem, R. Yohanan became the founder of Rabbinic Judaism at Yavneh.
After study, I realized that Yohanan b. Zakkai was a legitimate representative of government interests, whose main advantage was his expertise in Jewish law, the Torah.
I was concerned that people might think I was anti-Semitic, casting a Pharisee as the villain the way Luther did the Jews. The possibility that I might inadvertently encourage anti-semitism was a grave concern for me.
Phase II concluded, “Yohanan b. Zakkai was focused on the legal and political concerns of the Temple state. He is on record arguing for the execution of lesbian gentiles.”
Phase III concerned Philip the Tetrarch, his legal reputation and his role in the region.
In the long-range plan to incorporate the Tetrarch’s territory into the empire, Philip was already the final court of appeal in regional disputes between the various peregrine groups (non-Romans). His jurisdiction was overwhelmingly Bedouin, that is, nomadic Arabs. The number of Jews in his territory was fairly small.
One part of his imperial absorption plan was to elevate the status of Bethsaida, a lake port town, to that of official city of the empire, an imperial polis. That legal designation became official in 30 C.E. We know this from numismatic archaeological evidence, a commemorative coin.
This elevation of Bethsaida to imperial polis marked a definite power shift toward Rome (4,050 miles away) and away from Jerusalem (83 miles away).
In the days of Rome, when a locale was elevated in status like this, the local Roman surrogate ruler would submit a city charter to the Roman senate for final approval.
These charters were not off-the-shelf boiler-plate. Local issues were hammered out ahead of time, relying on precedent, custom, and prior agreements which were incorporated into the final draft of the city charter.
The Bethsaida Trial was part of hammering-out that incremental absorption process, the part initiated by the local stakeholders as they respond to the plans.
The situation was analogous to a negotiated cease-fire between combatants, or a player shifting his position before the snap in football. One side sought an improved position prior to some critical moment.
The timing of the arrests and the filing of charges was likely calculated to precede the final draft of the city charter. The sexual nature of the criminal trial was likely strategically selected by Jewish Pharisees based on the desired legal ruling. In strategic legal planning, the kind of case needed, the timing, and the venue are mapped out in advance. I must note that this surmise of strategic planning goes beyond the present evidence.
The 30 C.E. date of Bethsaida’s status change is a historical fact. The existence of the Luke 17:34-35 is a fact. That its genre is legal writing is the position of Canadian Q scholar William E. Arnal. The overlap of the jurisdictions of Philip the Tetrarch and Yohanan b. Zakkai in 30 C.E. is a historical fact. That Jewish legal texts confirm that R. Yohanan argued for the execution of gentile lesbians caught having sex with Jewish lesbians is a neglected but verifiable fact. We owe our thanks to R. Jacob Neusnern for this information on Yohanan b. Zakkai. He never, however, to my knowledge made the argument I am putting forward here.
From these facts I conclude that Luke 17:34-35 is a record of Philip the Tetrarch’s adjudication of a trial in which two mixed-ethnicity same-sex couples were charged under Jewish law to be sexual transgressors for the strategic purpose of officially placing a narrow segment of gentiles under the jurisdiction of Jewish law in an official Roman territory.
These are the facts, and the main conclusions based on those facts. Whether a person is an orthodox believer, is questing for the historical Jesus, or is a total mythicist, these facts should at some point be taken into account.
Questions remain. If it is confirmed that Philip the Tetrarch is the source of the Luke 17 gendered couplet as the verdict in the postulated trial, then what were the circumstances of its inclusion in the Q Source? And more precisely, did Jesus say it, or was it included by a scribe and subsequently attributed to Jesus?
If the present conjecture regarding the Luke 17 couplet is confirmed, and if the interpreter has previously concluded that the historical Jesus actually uttered Philip’s ruling, several questions arise.
Why was Jesus talking about the trial(s) of two sexually transgressive couples? Why would Jesus be interested in this? Why would his audience be interested in this? Why would scribes have preserved Philip’s ruling, at all?
The following question is for academics who accept critical theories regarding how the gospels were composed. Since we find numerous Jesus sayings augmented to become homiletically useful stories, why was this couplet abandoned in a swirl of relatively unassociated detritus?
These are just a few of the questions to be answered if a reader believes that the historical Jesus uttered the gendered couplet in Luke 17.
Assume for a moment that you are not committed to the position that “the historical Jesus” uttered those words. If you eventually accept the idea that they were originally a trial summation by Philip the Tetrarch, a similar set of questions arise.
Why was a scribe writing about the trial(s) of two pairs of sexual transgressors? Why would the scribe be interested in them? Why would his audience be interested in them? Why would scribes have preserved Philip’s new policy summary at all?
Phase IV was the completion of my book, The Galilee Episode. Unfortunately, even my scholarly readers weren’t understanding my point. They told me, “You obviously think you’ve proven your case, but you haven’t.” “There may be a thesis buried in there somewhere, but I can’t find it.” One reader, a fundamentalist scholar and translator, wished me luck with my continues research but said, “Bizarre. Too big a paradigm shift for me.”
The original audience of the Luke 17:34-35 material was interested in same-sex legal policy because there were homoerotic individuals and couples in that audience. What percentage of that community were sexual minorities is difficult to determine.
This trial was of great general interest. Relations between Jews and other groups, other peregrine peoples (non-Romans) were a perennial source of friction and conflict, and were in this competition caused this postulated litigation.
Interest in a trial where the rights of both sexual minorities and ethnic minorities were at stake would have been widespread.
I have concluded that Jesus did not utter the sentences in Luke 17:34-35, but was one of the subjects of the first sentence. Jesus was the Jew siezed for execution in verse 34.
Jesus the Palestinian and his gentile partner, together with a similar mixed-ethnicity lesbian couple, were charged with sexual transgression by Yohanan b. Zakkai under Jewish law. Philip the Tetrarch ruled that the Jewish transgressors were subject to Jewish law as usual, but the gentile peregrines (non-Romans) were not subject to Jewish law, again as usual.
Thus, Jesus was executed under Jewish law with the approval of the Rome-approved magistrate Philip the Tetrarch.
This is the explanation of the Bethsaida trial. This explains why why the words of Luke 17:34-35 were not uttered by Jesus, but were about Jesus and his friends.