“Listen Jesus, I’ve been reading this Bible scholar, a social historian called Howard Kee, and he says there’s no evidence of synagogues in Palestine until after CE 70, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews had to find other places of worship.“
“So he’s saying all those stories about you being in synagogues are inventions of Christian believers and gospel writers.”
“He’s a strange historian then, because he must base his history at least partly on written sources, and here he is with a good written source from the time, the four gospels, but he dismisses them as inventions. And in any case, you’re a bit out of date, I’m afraid. Mr Kee was writing back in the 1960’s and 70’s, since when Jewish archaeologists have unearthed at least nine ruined synagogues which are dated before CE 70..”
“Wait a minute Jesus, surely you don’t need to read books about this! You were there!“
“You mean I could tell you from my own experience whether there were Synagogues or not?”
“I would never give you any information from my life on earth that you hadn’t already found from another source. Knowing me is not a short-cut to historical fact.”
“If you say, ‘Jesus told me’ you think everyone will believe you?”
“I guess not. But see, if you are God’s son, why would you go to Synagogue to learn about God, and worship. You’d know it all already!”
“Ah right, you think I had a Son of God implant that gave me it all without learning. So do you suppose I was always able to talk and walk and didn’t need to learn? Or I could always use a saw, right from the start? I could recite the Ten Commandments in my cradle? That’s all mince. Of course I had to learn like every human being. How did you learn about God?
“In Church, from other people. At home, from my parents. Of course I learned things that I now think are wrong.”
“Me too. The synagogue was a wonderful invention; a combination of town hall, temple, school and courthouse, where children learned Bible, songs, prayers, stories, manners, justice, reading, writing and gossip. If your synagogue was well funded, it would have some Bible scrolls which were prized possessions. Ours had scrolls of The Torah and one or two prophets, all if which I memorised by the time I was 13. I was good at that, but so were others. Learning is one of my greatest pleasures.
“You mean now that my life is shared with God? Do we know in advance what you or Boris Johnson is going to say or do? Of course not; so there are always new things to be learned. The synagogues were part of the reformation of Jewish religion fostered by the Pharisees. They argued that the practice of holiness should not be limited to priests but was meant for all the people. We all had to keep all God’s rules. We all had to learn them and do them.”
“But I thought the Pharisees were your principal opponents?“
“We disagreed about the meaning of the rules, not about the need to learn the rules. I agreed that we have to keep the Sabbath holy; I disagreed about how we should keep it holy. Often they seemed to forget that the rules were given by Our Father, for our good.”
“Surely you taught that faith was a matter of love rather than rules?”
“That’s a bad way of putting it. God gives the rules out of love for us. We keep the rules out of love for God. St Augustine said, ‘Love God and do what you like,’ meaning that love defines the rules. I would say that the rules define love. The Father’s love is not a mere emotion, it’s all the good he does for us. Our love for God and our neighbour is not a mere emotion, it’s all the good we do for them. Love is when Nathan the Prophet denounces King David for stealing a man’s wife and arranging his death. Love is when Elisha tells a foreigner how to cure his leprosy. Love is when God creates the universe.”
“So characterising your way as a religion of love opposed to the Pharisees’ religion of rules is a mistake?”
“Yes. If you look at all the teaching attributed to me, you’ll see that a significant proportion of it is rules. I’m a Jew for goodness sake, and we have always loved rules. We describe them as ‘sweeter than honey’. I would never have got rejected by our religious leaders for preaching love. They would have tolerated me as a harmless idiot. But when I made the rule: love your enemies; their hands reached for stones.
“Thank you. I’ve certainly learned a few things today. But I hope you’ll admit I trapped you into confirming the existence of synagogues in your lifetime.”
“I’m always happy to teach, but I think you’ll realise on reflection that I haven’t told you anything that wasn’t available from the Bible or some other source.”