The figure of Jesus seen as the “cut-off member” of the Jewish “body”

I ask you to be a bit patient as I go about helping you to see what appears to be an esoteric meaning contained in one of Jesus’s parables—a meaning which, if I am correct in believing that it was probably intended by the authors of the Gospels (whether consciously or unconsciously), would be quite remarkable.  I recommend that the first time you read the Bible passages quoted below, that you only read the text in red, and skip the bracketed material.  I also recommend that you not refer to the endnotes the first time you read the post.

The particular parable I have in mind can be found in Matthew 5:29-30, in which Jesus says,

And if your right eye causes you to be offended [or to stumble, or to offend, or to become indignant, or to be led into temptation, or to get stuck, or to get tripped up; more literally, to be ensnared: skandalizō], pluck it out [or pull it out, or lift it out, or take it out, or rescue it: ex-aireō][1] and cast [or send: ballō] (it) away from [apo] you.  For it is profitable [or advantageous: sympherō] for you that [hina] one [hen] of your members [melos] should perish [or be ruined, or be destroyed: apollymi, a word that appears to be derived from apo-lyō, which can mean “to cut loose, to detach, to cut off, to cut away”], and (the) whole [holos] (of) your body [sōma] not be cast [or sent: ballō] into Gehenna [or hell: geenna].[2]  And if your right hand[3] causes you to be offended [or to stumble: skandalizō], cut it off [ek-koptō] and cast [or send: ballō] (it) away from [apo] you.[4]  For it is profitable [sympherō] for you that [hina] one [hen] of your members [melos] should perish [apollymi], and (the) whole [holos] (of) your body [sōma] not go away [ap-erchomai] into Gehenna [or hell: geenna].[5]

Compare the quoted passage to John 11:47-53, which says,

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together [syn-agō] the Council [or Sanhedrin: synedrion] and said, “What do we do (now)?  For this man does many signs.  If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe [or be persuaded: pisteuō] unto him, and the Romans will come and will take away [or destroy: airō] from us both the (holy) place and the nation [or people: ethnos].”  But one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You understand nothing at all.  Nor are you considering that it is profitable [sympherō] for us that [hina] one [heis] man [anthrōpos] should perish [or die: apothnéskō] for the sake of the people [laos, not ethnos], and (the) whole [holos] (of) the nation [ethnos, not laos] not be destroyed [or perish, or be ruined, or be lost: apollymi].”  And he said this not of his own accord [more literally, “from himself”], but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die [apothnéskō] for the sake of the nation [ethnos]—and not for the sake of the nation [ethnos] alone, but also so that he might gather together [syn-agō] into one the children of God who had been scattered [dia-skorpizō].[6]  So from that day (on) they made plans [or purposed: bouleuō] to put him to death [apothnéskō].

In other words:  One “member” of the “body” of the people would be made to “perish” in order to benefit the “whole.”

(Note that in Matthew 12:14, it is said that “the Pharisees took counsel against (Jesus), as to how they might destroy [apollymi] him.”  So we see that the Greek words apothnésko and apollymi, both of which can mean “to make perish,” were effectively being used interchangeably by the authors of the Gospels.)

The episode in John 11:47-53 is referred to in John 18:14, which says,

And Caiaphas was he who gave advice to [or planned with: sym-bouleuō] the Jews that it is profitable [sympherō] for one [hena] man [anthrōpos] to perish [or die: apothnéskō] for the sake of the people [laos].[7]

It would be reasonable to deduce from a careful comparison of Matthew 5:29-30 with John 11:47-53 that Jesus himself was understood to be the symbolic “right hand” and “right eye” that were to be “cut off” or “plucked out” and (at least temporarily) “cast away” from the rest of the “body.”  Note that this sacrifice would be made for the sake of the “people” (Greek laos) of “Israel” generally, including the “scattered children of God”; and this would incidentally benefit the Jewish or Judean “nation” (Greek ethnos) more specifically.  In other words, the sacrifice would be made in order to reunite “Israel,” at the same time as doing that would prevent “Judah” from “being destroyed” (or “perishing,” or “being lost”).  Moreover, the “body” mentioned in Jesus’s parable would appear to correspond specifically to the Jewish nation or people.[8]

I can’t say with absolute certainty that the correspondence in linguistic structure between the two seemingly different contexts was the product of deliberate design on the part of the authors; but the similarities between the two passages are so striking that I find it virtually impossible to believe that they are nothing more than coincidental, and that no analogy between the two contexts existed in the minds of the authors of the Gospels, even at an unconscious level of thought.

The interpretation of Matthew 5:29-30 that I am offering would not necessarily be all that interesting—if not for the fact that it is not an interpretation ordinarily given to the passage by Christians.  (In fact, I’ve personally never encountered it before.)  The reason why the correspondence between the two passages is so significant is that it makes it possible to offer a plausible interpretation of the parable in Matthew 5:29-30 that radically deviates from traditional Christian interpretations of the passage—and, moreover, one that has completely escaped the notice of the vast majority of Christians for two thousand years or so.  And if a plausible “esoteric meaning” such as the one I’ve proposed for Matthew 5:29-30 could remain hidden from people’s sight for so long, then there is no good reason to think that, in theory at least, plausible “esoteric meanings” could not be found for a great many other passages in the Bible, even if we’re not currently in a position to know what they are.

But when it’s possible to offer an “esoteric” interpretation such as the one I’ve offered, with the result that there are multiple, radically different, but equally plausible interpretations available for a single passage of scripture, there is no way for a reader to know what that passage should be understood to mean with any reasonable degree of certainty.  If a writing can plausibly mean very different things to different persons, or even to the same person at different moments, then—at least with respect to any possible role as an authoritative religious writing—it can’t be regarded as meaning anything whatsoever.[9]

If I am correct in supposing that Jesus was giving “instructions” of sorts in Matthew 5:29-30 with regard to his own future sacrifice, then the text seems to be indicating that the reason why Caiaphas and Jesus were “seeing eye-to-eye” about the necessity and usefulness of Jesus’s sacrifice is that Caiaphas arrived at his decision as a result of his “prophesying”—thus allowing him to arrive at a kind of “meeting of the minds” with Jesus, the archetypal “prophet.”  So one might say that by agreeing to follow Caiaphas’s “prophesying” (according to the Gospel narrative, anyway), the Jewish religious leadership would have been acting fully in accord with Jesus’s very own “prophetic sense” when they made plans to have him “destroyed.”[10]

Notice that the comparison of Matthew 5:29-30 with John 11:47-53 makes it appear that the idea in the parable of “the body going off into Gehenna” was understood to correspond to the idea of “the Jewish nation perishing” or “the Jewish nation being lost.”  With that in mind, next consider Matthew 23:15, in which Jesus says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you go about [or lead around: peri-agō][11] the sea and the dry (land) to produce one proselyte [or “a single proselyte”], and when he has been formed, you (then) make him (even) more twofold [or “more double”: diploteron, a comparative form of diplous] a child of Gehenna than yourselves.[12]

In other words, the “scribes and Pharisees” were already metaphorically located in “Gehenna”—perhaps due to their “hypocrisy,” or their “twofold” nature.[13]  And so it would also appear that the authors of the New Testament saw the “body” of the Jewish people or nation as having already metaphorically “perished,” presumably as a result of having been guided or led to “Gehenna” by the “scribes and Pharisees.”[14]

But if the Jewish people were already situated in metaphorical “Gehenna,” then they would require some means by which they might be rescued or saved—that is, some means by which they might escape—from their predicament.  With that in mind, consider Matthew 23:33-34, in which Jesus, speaking to the “scribes and Pharisees,” says,

You serpents, offspring of vipers, how shall you escape from the sentence of Gehenna?  For this reason I send out [apo-stellō, from which is derived the noun apostolos, meaning “apostle” or “one sent out”] to you prophets and wise (men) and scribes.  Some of them you will kill and will crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues [synagōgé, derived from syn-agō, meaning “to gather together, to bring together”], and will persecute from town to town….

From the context it seems that the question being asked by Jesus is not a rhetorical one; the passage seems to be saying that the “prophets” (and “apostles”) whom the “scribes and Pharisees” were “persecuting” and “killing” and “crucifying”—all of them apparently represented by the archetypal “prophet” and sacrificial victim, “Jesus”—would be the means by which the “scribes and Pharisees” would escape from their “sentence of Gehenna.”  In that case, the “prophets” and “apostles,”[15] collectively represented by the figure of the pre-Resurrection Jesus, would correspond to that one “member” mentioned in the parable which is made to “perish” so that the “body” of the Jewish people might be rescued from its “sentence of Gehenna”—that is to say, its state of “destruction” (or “ruin,” or “perdition,” or “being lost,” or “being cut off”: apōleia, derived from the verb apollymi, meaning “to destroy, to ruin, to perish, to be lost, to be cut off”).[16]

As additional support for the hypothesis I am offering, consider Matthew 15:12-14:

Then, having come to (Jesus), the disciples said to him, “Did you know that the Pharisees, having heard the saying (that you just told), were offended [or were made to stumble: skandalizō]?”  And answering, he said, “ … Disregard them.  They are blind guides [hodégos] of the blind.  And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a Pit.”[17]

So the disciples tell Jesus that something that Jesus had said “offended” the Pharisees (or “caused (them) to stumble”: skandalizō); and moreover, this “taking offense” or “stumbling” seems to be associated with the idea of their “being blind”—perhaps because they had chosen to “cast away” both of their metaphorical “eyes,” the left one as well as the right.[18]  This once again suggests that the figure of Jesus was understood to correspond to the one “member” of the earlier parable (in this case, a “right eye”) that is to be “destroyed” or “allowed to perish” or “cut off” because it has caused the “body” to “be offended,” or to “stumble,” or to “get tripped up.”  (However, it seems that the Pharisees’ “casting away” of both of their “eyes,” and their resulting “blindness,” has also been the cause of a new kind of “stumbling.”)  Also, since it is likely that the symbol of “a Pit” found in this new parable was meant to be read as an allusion to “Gehenna” or “hell,” it would appear that “casting away their right eye” has not rescued the Pharisees (and perhaps also the bulk of the Jewish people) from the “sentence of Gehenna” after all, since it seems that they unfortunately chose to “cast away their left eye” as well, leaving themselves “blind” and destined to “fall into a Pit.”  Perhaps we were meant to assume that some “resurrected right eye” would return from having “perished” or “been destroyed” or “been cut off” to rescue the rest of the “body” from its “blindness”—making that new, “single-eyed” body “full of light” (phōteinos).[19]

I feel quite certain that in order to more adequately explain what is going on in these Bible passages, some kind of psychological interpretation is required.  (I realize there are other persons who would be better equipped than I am to offer such an interpretation; but I will try to provide whatever insight I can, and hope that others might then build on that.)  We cannot help but notice the fact that in Matthew 5:29-30 (as well as the similar passages of Matthew 18:8-9 and Mark 9:43-47), we are presented with a theme of self-mutilation; and if, as I have suggested, Matthew 5:29-30 was indeed understood by the authors of the New Testament to correspond in some way to John 11:47-53, even if only at a somewhat unconscious level of awareness, then Matthew 5:29-30 can also be read as Jesus effectively announcing his own future suicide-by-proxy, in the form of his willing acceptance of his own execution.

Both suicide and self-mutilation (which can include self-amputation) are not uncommonly found among schizophrenics, especially advanced schizophrenics; and I think that fact may help to direct us to a means by which to better explain the combined message of the two passages.  I think that the figure of “Jesus,” along with the authors of the New Testament, ought to be viewed as, if not schizophrenic outright, then at the very least exhibiting schizophrenic tendencies; and I believe that idea should be kept prominently in mind when trying to interpret these passages.  Much of the reason why I am inclined to follow such an interpretive approach is that I am strongly convinced that the Bible should be regarded as a schizophrenic writing, and that in their writings, the authors of the New Testament exhibit clear signs of schizophrenic thought and language disorder.

In his book Interpretation of Schizophrenia (Basic Books, 1974), Dr. Silvano Arieti writes,

According to [psychiatrist Thomas] Szasz, in self-mutilating schizophrenic patients the ego needs “to bring the body up to date, so to speak, in order that it correspond to the psychically amputated (new) body image.  Since the body part was already lost from the point of view of the experiencing ego, its removal is unaccompanied by pain.”  [p. 308.]

Might this have anything to do with Paul’s expressing a need in Romans 7:24 to be “rescued” (ex-aireō) from his “body of death”?  Might that “body of death” have been referring to those parts of Paul’s “former body image” that he had already “psychically amputated” from himself?  Might it have anything to do with Paul’s notion—as found, for example, in Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 2:11, and Colossians 3:9—that one must “lay aside” or “put off” the “former man” or the “body of flesh”?  Language such as this seems to suggest that Paul was envisioning a division of one’s “body” into more than one component part.[20]  And remember that this idea of “putting off” the “body of flesh” is an expression of the “death/rebirth” motif—of which the “Crucifixion/ Resurrection” symbolism associated with the figure of “Jesus Christ” is also an expression.

Dr. Arieti also writes,

[Some schizophrenics] at times feel that they are, or may become, responsible for all the evils of the world.  In these delusions, the feeling of power is more obvious than the feeling of guilt, which may not be apparent.  [Ibid., pp. 65-66.]

[Some schizophrenic] patients develop for a certain period of time a mixed feeling of fear and power, which we may call a feeling of negative omnipotence.  They feel that if they move, the whole world will collapse or all mankind will perish.  Together with a feeling of cosmic power they have a feeling of cosmic responsibility.  [Ibid., p. 325.]

Needless to say, it is impossible for a person to be “savior of the world” unless he is also potentially responsible for all the evils of the world, since the person might always choose not to perform his savior duties—or he might fail to perform them correctly—and leave all of the evils in place.  This helps us to see why, in certain cases anyway, schizophrenics might choose to commit suicide:  in order to escape from that awful sense of “cosmic responsibility”; but, by so doing, also to ensure that “the whole world will not collapse” or that “all mankind will not perish.”  (Again, think of Matthew 5:29-30, the parable quoted at the beginning of the post.)

In the Gospel passages that I provided at the beginning of the post, both Jesus and Caiaphas apparently share the same perspective:  that of someone who wishes to see the bringing about of a particular individual’s destruction.  For Jesus it is his own self-destruction, while for Caiaphas it is the destruction of another person; but the end result is the same.  What is the significance of the fact that the victim and the victimizer share the same perspective?

I think the Sanhedrin, speaking on behalf of the Jewish people, should probably be seen as representing the idea of “society” in this particular context.[21]  Schizophrenics are frequently described as viewing “society” with great suspicion, seeing it as something that is hostile to them, and that has failed and abandoned them.[22]  They often view themselves as outcasts who have been marginalized and cut off from mainstream society.[23]  The loathing that they perceive being directed toward them by the other members of their society was usually first internalized as a self-loathing earlier in their lives.  But in some cases, an inversion of this self-loathing occurs at some later point in their lives, resulting in psychotic grandiosity.[24]  An awareness of the hatred directed toward the individual by a hostile society is no longer regarded as something to be repressed and denied and avoided, but rather as something to embrace, since it allows the individual to believe that his perceived victimization has some great positive purpose, and can result in the salvation or redemption of the whole, especially including his victimizers.  Then, once the salvation or redemption has occurred, the victimizers will understand the debt that they owe to the victim, allowing them to come to a full appreciation of the individual’s true worth, which had previously not been evident to them.  However, even in spite of the grandiosity, the individual’s self-loathing probably never really disappears; and that may partly explain why those grandiose fantasies would be expressed in self-destructive imagery suggestive of both self-mutilation and suicide.[25]

I offer a suggestion that we might think of Caiaphas as speaking on behalf of the ideal future “society,” which has been brought into the present by means of Caiaphas’s “prophesying”:  a society which, though now still persecutory, would someday come to understand the true inner worth of its victim, and repent for what it did to him and how it treated him.  At the same time, Caiaphas, being head of the existing Sanhedrin, would also represent the current “society,” which wishes to destroy Jesus for the same old reasons that it has always had for wishing to destroy its human victims.[26]  That would explain why both Jesus and Caiaphas would come to the same conclusion regarding the desirability of Jesus’s death:  “Jesus,” understood as an archetype (and thus representing every true “prophet” and true “apostle”), has chosen to take the hatred already felt toward him by “society” (represented by “Caiaphas”), and to accept that hatred, allowing himself to be personally destroyed for the deliberate purpose of eliciting the pity and guilt of those who will have destroyed him—and, in so doing, to bring about the redemption of that entire society by having induced it to overcome the collective “hardness of heart” that had always been the real source of its dysfunction.  The future gratitude of the society toward its victim for having brought about the society’s redemption—resulting in the victim’s “glorification”[27]—would be regarded by the victim as adequate compensation for his willingness to be destroyed without complaint or resistance.[28]

Furthermore, I think that in practice the figure of “Jesus” serves as a receptacle for the projection of ideas of this type by many people.  (Obviously, such ideas would need to be projected outside oneself for the reason that it is socially unacceptable to entertain either self-aggrandizing fantasies of being a cosmic savior or redeemer, or self-pitying thoughts of being a cosmic victim.)  I suspect that in some cases, the fact that people are able to project these sorts of thoughts onto an external religious figure may prevent them from becoming acutely psychotic, and may help to mitigate whatever inclinations they might have to develop grandiose thoughts as a means of overcoming the inhibiting effects of low self-esteem.  But the very fact that they would feel any inclination to develop those grandiose thoughts in the first place indicates to me that they should perhaps be thought of as mildly psychotic, or as prepsychotic, or as having psychotic tendencies (whether or not psychiatrists would label them as such)—or, at the very least, as not being entirely mentally sound—since they perhaps would have become acutely psychotic in the absence of such external religious figures to act as recipients of their projections.  For example, when one reads passages such as Acts 2:22-41, Luke 23:47, and James 5:6, it is not difficult to imagine that the authors were secretly thinking of “Jesus Christ” as representing some idealized vision that they entertained of themselves, allowing them to vicariously indulge in the fantasy that their enemies would be “pierced in the heart” when they finally came to discover the authors’ true righteousness and inner value after having already metaphorically “crucified” them; and this would be true regardless of whether or not the authors thought of Jesus as an historical person (although I don’t happen to believe that they did think of him as an historical person).

To be a member of the “body of Christ” is to engage in the kind of projection that I have just described, to however small an extent; and so to be a member of the “body of Christ” is to be part—even if only a very small one—of a sort of “group psychosis,” partly for the simple reason that “Christ,” the recipient of those projections, is depicted in the Gospels as an individual who is acutely psychotic.  But the fact that each member represents only one small part of that collective psychosis, and the fact that the psychotic ways of thinking can be engaged in vicariously and “from a distance,” so to speak, is precisely what, generally speaking, enables each of those members to continue “functioning” in their society—and that is what enables the very existence of the collective psychosis to be concealed from public view and shielded from close scrutiny.

I submit that this “body of Christ”—this group of “members” participating in a more or less shared psychotic-like fantasy that binds them all together—is itself, in its essence, the very “body of death” from which the Christians were originally seeking “rescue”; they were “grafted into” the very same kind of “body” from which they had first been “cut off.”[29]  That is because the Christians never fully came to terms with what made Judaism, as well as the other, Gentile religions, a “body of death” to them:  the esotericism of those religions.  And it is because of the existence of passages in the New Testament such as the “self-mutilation” parable that I quoted at the beginning of this post—assuming I am correct in finding an esoteric meaning in it—that we can know that Christians never fully came to terms with the problem of esotericism.  Jesus was certainly right about one thing (even if he was expressing himself in esoteric language when he said it):  If all human beings are ever to form a unified “body,” it will have to be one that is “single-eyed”—as a result of having put aside the use of “double meanings” and dishonesty—so that the whole of that “body” will be “full of light” (or “well-illuminated,” or “clear,” or “distinct,” or “transparent”: phōteinos).[30]



[1] Compare Romans 7:24 and its use of the Greek word rhyomai, meaning “to rescue, to deliver, to save, to draw, to pull out, to pluck out, to snatch up.”  Consider the possibility that all of chapter 7 of the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans may be revealing that Paul associated his identity as a devout Jew—suggested by his repeated references to “the (Mosaic) law”—with the idea of a “body of death” from which he was seeking “rescue” or “plucking out.”  If so, that would seem to be fairly consistent with the notion I am suggesting can be found in Matthew 5:29-30, that of a correspondence between “the Jewish people” and the symbol of “a human body.”

In fact, according to Acts 26:17 Jesus is said to have told Paul in a vision that he was “rescuing” Paul (or  “plucking (him) out,” or “delivering” him: ex-aireō, which is the same word used by Jesus in his parable in Matthew 5:29-30), both from the Gentiles to whom he was being “sent” (apo-stellō), and from “the people” (laos)—presumably referring to “the people of Judah.”  (Acts 12:11, for example, shows that the Greek word laos was not necessarily understood to refer to “the people of Israel” in all cases.)

[2] The “Valley [Hebrew ge] of the Son of Hinnom,” to which the name “Gehenna” refers, is associated in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Jeremiah 32:35) with the burning of children as sacrificial offerings to the god Moloch.  The author may have meant to suggest that the “one member” should be thought of as an “innocent child” who was being sent to Gehenna and sacrificed to Moloch so that the rest of the “body” of the people would not need to be (or, more likely, so that that “body” could escape from its own “sentence of Gehenna”).

[3] Cf. Exodus 15:6 (read in conjunction with Exodus 14:21 and 14:26-27), Psalm 16:8, Psalm 110:5, Mark 14:62, Colossians 3:1, and Hebrews 10:12.

[4] There is good reason to suppose that the authors of the New Testament understood this “casting away” (or “throwing away,” or “sending away,” or “casting out,” or “rejecting”: ballō apo) of the “right hand” and the “right eye” of the “body” of the Jewish people to correspond to the “sending away” (or “sending off,” or “sending out”: apo-stellō) of the “apostles” (more literally, “ones sent out”: apostolos, derived from apo-stellō) to the “nations” (ethnos).  (Cf. Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:1-20, Acts 22:21, Acts 26:16-18, and the Septuagint version of Isaiah 14:3-4 and 14:12-15 [read in conjunction with Luke 24:46-47, Revelation 11:8, Revelation 18:10, and Revelation 18:21].)  I get the sense that in practice the idea of “Jesus Christ” and the idea of “the apostles” are often used somewhat interchangeably in the New Testament, so this “cut-off body member” metaphor may have been meant to apply to both of those two ideas simultaneously.  (Cf. John 13:20, John 17:18, and John 20:21.)

In connection with this suggestion, consider the use in Acts 5:40 of the Greek word apo-lyō, which can mean “to release,” but also “to cut off, to cut away.”  This verse might be read as the Sanhedrin “cutting off” the “apostles” from the Jewish people in the same way that Jesus recommended that a “member” be “cut off” to save the “body.”

Also consider Romans 11:11-32.  Focus especially on Romans 11:25, which might be read to suggest that the “apostles” had to “go out” of “Israel” and allow themselves to be “scattered” among the “Gentiles”—just like the “scattered children of God” mentioned in John 11:47-53—for the purpose of enabling “the fullness of the Gentiles” to “enter into” (eis-erchomai) “Israel.”  (Also see Hebrews 13:11-14.)

Such a suggestion seems to be supported by Matthew 26:31-32, which says,

Then Jesus said to (his disciples), “You will all stumble [skandalizō] in me [!] in this night.  For it has been written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered [dia-skorpizō].’  And after having been raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

(Keep in mind that Matthew 4:15 speaks of “Galilee of the Gentiles” or “Galilee of the nations [ethnos].”)  Consider that Jesus’s “Resurrection” may have been understood to correspond to the “gathering together” of the “scattered children of Israel” to form a new metaphorical “body”:  the “body of Christ.”  The “shepherd” would signify the “unifying principle” of the “body,” which, when lost, would lead to a “scattering” of the body’s “members” (i.e., the “sheep”).  Note that Jesus never explicitly mentions his “Crucifixion” in the quoted passage—which tends to suggest that the phrase “this night” was meant to be read metaphorically, so that that “night” would have been understood to be already underway, and to continue until the occurrence of the metaphorical “Resurrection.”  (Consider 1 Corinthians 11:26, in which Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”  But if we take the Gospel accounts at face value, wasn’t there also a “resurrection” after the “death”?—which goes to show that the Gospel accounts shouldn’t be taken at face value.)

[5] It is likely that if Matthew 5:29-30 was indeed meant to be read esoterically, then the immediately preceding passage, Matthew 5:27-28, probably would have been meant to be read no less esoterically.  In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You will not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that every one who looks upon (a) woman for the purpose of desiring [or lusting after: epi-thymeō] her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The author may have meant for the “woman” in this passage to be understood as referring to the “Woman of Babylon.”  (See Revelation 17:1-6, Revelation 18:3, and Revelation 18:14, focusing especially on the use in the latter two passages of the Greek words thymos, meaning “passion,” and epithymia, meaning “desire, lust.”)  If so, then perhaps the intended “esoteric” meaning of Matthew 5:27-29 was something like, “If, by focusing on ‘inner meanings’ (associated with the symbol of the ‘right eye’) in the scriptures, you find yourself developing a passionate desire for symbolic ‘Babylon’ (whatever exactly that was understood to mean), then you would be better off not focusing on ‘inner meanings’ at all.”

In connection with this type of symbolism, also consider 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.  It seems that the “body of the Great Prostitute” and the “body of Christ” are “competing for members,” so to speak.  Also, carefully note Paul’s ambiguous use of the word/idea “body” in that passage.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15, he speaks of “your [hymōn, in the plural] bodies [sōmata, in the plural]”—but in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul speaks of “your [hymōn, in the plural] body [sōma, in the singular].”  I think Paul may have been going back and forth in his mind between thinking of the individual bodies of individual Christians, and thinking of the collective “body of Christ.”  It must be kept in mind that schizophrenic-like religious esotericists view the possibility for ambiguous meanings in their communication as an opportunity to be exploited, not as a source of confusion to be avoided; and in their minds, they are constantly searching for such opportunities.  They view deliberate verbal ambiguity as evidence of cleverness and ingenuity; and when it comes to meanings, their attitude is always “the more the better.”

For that reason, it would not at all surprise me if the author would have considered multiple meanings for both Matthew 5:27-28 and Matthew 5:29-30 to be acceptable—and not necessarily limited to the particular “esoteric” meanings that I have suggested.

[6] Consider that the author may have meant for the “gathering together” (syn-agō) of the Sanhedrin or Council to be seen as an anticipation of this “gathering together” (syn-agō) of the “scattered children” of Israel.  Note that in Acts 5:35 Gamaliel makes a point of addressing the members of the Sanhedrin as “Israelites,” not “Jews.”

[7] Notice that by its use of the Greek word laos, meaning “people,” John 18:14 seems to indicate more clearly than does John 11:47-53 that, unlike the chief priests and Pharisees, when advocating that Jesus be put to death, Caiaphas’s primary concern was the welfare of “the people” (that is, “the people of Israel”), rather than the welfare of “the nation” (that is, “the nation of Judah or Judea”).  That in turn seems to imply—since it appears that the only thing differentiating Caiaphas from the chief priests and Pharisees was his “prophesying”—that the authors of the New Testament must have seen some sort of deep connection between the idea of “prophecy” and that of “Israel”—a connection which they did not necessarily see existing between the idea of “prophecy” and that of “Judah” per se.  And that may suggest that all of “prophecy” was deemed by the authors of the New Testament to exist solely for the purpose of bringing about a reunification of “the scattered children” of Israel (cf. James 1:1 and 1 Peter 1:1).  Perhaps it was believed that once that reunification had been completed, “prophecy” could then be allowed to pass away (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

[8] Again, I’m not necessarily claiming that this was the only meaning that the author of Matthew 5:29-30 intended for the passage to have in the reader’s mind; the more “outer” or “exoteric” meaning may have been considered correct as well, in addition to other “esoteric” meanings.  But that “multiplying of meanings” is what is responsible for all of the confusion and insanity that is generated in the world by religious writings of an esoteric nature.

[9] Keep in mind that I regard the Bible as not only an esoteric writing, but also a schizophrenic writing; and consider what psychiatrist Silvano Arieti writes about schizophrenic thought and language disorder:

[One] phenomenon that [Norman] Cameron has studied in advanced schizophrenia is what he calls “asyndetic thinking.”  At the level of language behavior this disorder manifests itself as a juxtaposition of elements, without adequate linkage between them.  It should be mentioned here that such juxtapositions are identical with those that Freud has described in his study of dreams.  In my opinion there is not only a juxtaposition of elements but also a juxtaposition of meanings.  Certain sentences are as confusing as photographic films that have been exposed several times.  The superimposed images and meanings, however, have some connection in the mind of the patient.  Often the word that, as we have mentioned, is representative of an enlarged context is taken to represent another context of which it is also a part, and the two contexts become superimposedSchizophrenic thought often bristles with different planes of meaning and is, as I call it, multifocal, because it has to focus at the same time on different meanings with their different objective situations.  [Interpretation of Schizophrenia (Basic Books, 1974), p. 263; the underlining and emboldening is mine.]

Consider that the notion of schizophrenic thought being “multifocal” might bear some relation to the figurative idea we find in the Bible of “having more than one eye.”  In other words, the person with “two eyes” would have to try to focus on two or more meanings simultaneously.

[10] They would also have (indirectly) been acting in accord with Jesus’s exhortation in Matthew 6:22-23, in which he speaks of the need to make one’s eye “single” (or “simple”: haplous) in order to create a “whole body” (holon to sōma) that would be “full of light.”  There may be an indication here, probably a somewhat unconscious one, that to make the “body” both “whole” and “full of light” would require that the “body” abandon its use of “double meanings” or “hidden meanings” or “concealed meanings”—partly because of the fact that the idea of “darkness” suggests “concealment.”  (The reason I say “indirectly” is that according to the symbolic scheme that I am suggesting the authors of the New Testament may have had in mind, the Jewish religious leadership would have been able to accomplish that final result of “having a single eye” only after first having made themselves “blind.”)

[11] The Greek verb peri-agō can also mean “to lead round and round,” with the figurative meaning of “to perplex, to confuse.”  Related to this, I suspect that the author meant for the phrase “the sea [thalassa] and the dry (land) [xéros]” to be given an esoteric significance; see the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 14:21-29, and its use of the Greek words thalassa and xéros.

[12] There is a suggestion to be found here that the “scribes and Pharisees” were being accused of teaching duplicity to the “proselytes,” with the result that the proselytes ended up being even more “hypocritical” than the scribes and Pharisees were.  And I think this would have been understood to be related to the “double-mindedness” that the teaching of “double meanings” would tend to promote.  In other words, I’m suggesting that what this passage may be saying is that the scribes and Pharisees would begin by teaching the proselytes the “outer meanings” (at which point the proselytes would still be “single” or “simple”), and then later they would proceed to teach them the “inner meanings” (at which point the proselytes would become “double,” or “twofold,” or “double-minded”).  Compare the use of the Greek word ha-plous, meaning “single, simple” (think: “one-ply”), as it is used in Matthew 6:22-23, with the use of the corresponding Greek word di-plous, meaning “double, twofold, duplicitous, treacherous” (think: “two-ply”), the comparative form of which is used in Matthew 23:15, the passage quoted in the main text.  (And a “ply” might be thought of as a “level or layer of meaning.”)

As I have written elsewhere, the authors of the New Testament are highly critical of religious esotericism—even as they express that criticism, strangely enough, through the use of the very same esotericist form of communication that they so detest.

[13] But consider that if the “scribes and Pharisees” had been condemned to a “sentence of Gehenna” due to their “twofold nature,” then in order for Jesus to serve as a “sacrificial substitute” for them in “Gehenna” (an idea which I discuss below), he too would have had to (perhaps temporarily) adopt a “twofold nature” of his own—which might help to explain why “Jesus” (representing all of the “prophets” and “apostles” at once) always made a point of speaking using language containing “double meanings.”  (Cf. Mark 4:34 and John 16:25.)

[14] In the rest of Matthew chapter 23, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “blind guides” two times, and calls them “blind” a total of five times.  Then, at the end of the chapter, in verses 37 and 38, I think it can be inferred that Jesus is saying that the “house of Israel” has been made “desolate” (or “empty,” or “in ruins”: erémos) because “Jerusalem” refused to allow the “prophets” and the “apostles” to “gather together” the “scattered children of Israel.”  If the “house of Israel” was “desolate” or “empty” or “in ruins,” then that tends to imply that the tribe of Judah was not seen as consisting of “true Israelites” at that time.  (Cf. John 1:47.)  And it would be reasonable to suppose that the authors blamed that state of affairs on the influence of those “blind guides,” the scribes and Pharisees.  The way to overcome that state of “desolation” or “emptiness” or “ruin” (think: “Gehenna”) would presumably be to allow the “prophets” and “apostles” to “gather together” the “scattered children of Israel”; and presumably that would require that the “prophets” and “apostles” be (temporarily) “cut off” from the “body” of Judah.  (But by the same token, the “body” of Judah would also be “cut off” from the “prophets” and “apostles”—and temporarily left outside the “commonwealth of Israel.”  Cf. Ephesians 2:12.)

[15] The suggestion that the authors of the New Testament meant for the “prophets” and “apostles” to be conceptually grouped together receives additional support from Ephesians 2:20, in which Paul speaks of the “apostles” and “prophets” as together forming the “foundation” of the “house of God.”

[16] As evidence that the “sentence of Gehenna” was seen as being equivalent to a state of “being lost” (or “perdition,” or “destruction,” or “being cut off”: apōleia), see Romans 9:22-24.  That passage indicates that Paul viewed the non-Christian Jews as being in a state of “being lost” (apōleia); and since we also know that they were regarded as serving a “sentence of Gehenna,” these two ideas were likely understood to have an equivalent significance.  (And Ephesians 2:11-13 seems to indicate that Paul regarded non-Christian Gentiles in the same way.)

Also consider John 17:12, in which Jesus prays to the Father,

While I was with (the disciples), I was keeping them in your name, which you have given to me.  And I guarded (them), and no one of them has been lost [or been destroyed, or been ruined, or perished: apollymi], except the son of destruction [or ruin: apōleia], that the scripture may be fulfilled.

Jesus is of course speaking of the disciple who betrayed him, Judas Iscariot.  I think it is reasonable to approach the Gospels as allegorical writings, which would imply that Judas’s name must have been deliberately chosen.  So it is pretty obvious that Judas was meant to be identified with the tribe of Judah, partly because the authors appear to have meant for the twelve disciples to be understood as corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, and partly because the Greek word meaning “Judas” is ioudas—which, it just so happens, is also the Greek name for the tribe of “Judah.”  So it seems that the figure of Judas was meant to signify the Jewish people (or possibly just the Jewish religious leadership).

I think one reason why the authors of the New Testament made this identification between Judas and the Jewish people may have been to signify that the “body” of the Jewish people had, in a metaphorical sense, already “perished” or “been destroyed” or “been lost,” and were already metaphorically located in “Gehenna.”  The Jewish people were being symbolically depicted as “sons of destruction” or as “children of Gehenna”—perhaps to indicate that they had already been metaphorically sacrificed to Moloch.  It seems that the authors of the New Testament may have regarded the symbolic Crucifixion of Jesus as the means by which the Jewish people could escape from their state of “destruction” and “Gehenna”—through “Jesus” (apparently signifying all of the “prophets” and “apostles” at once) taking the place of the Jewish people as the “sacrificial victim.”

Incidentally, in connection with this idea of a “sacrificial substitute,” notice certain similarities between the death of Judas and the death of Jesus, in that, like Jesus, Judas died by “hanging” (presumably also “from a tree”: compare Acts 5:30 with Matthew 27:5); and, also like Jesus, Judas’s blood (haima) is said to have “spilled out” or “poured out” (ek-cheō) when he died (compare Acts 1:18-19 with Mark 14:24).

In addition, see Acts 5:28, Matthew 23:35, and Matthew 27:25; the idea found therein of “bringing the blood of ‘Jesus’ or ‘the prophets’ upon the Jewish people” may have been meant to indicate the “substituting” of “Jesus” (representing all of the “prophets” and “apostles” at once) for the Jewish people as “sacrificial victim,” with the Jewish people being a beneficiary of the new sacrifice.  If so, then by analogy, Jeremiah 51:35 seems to be depicting “Israel” or “Judah” as the “sacrificial victim,” with “Babylon” being the beneficiary of this sacrifice.  (Also see Jeremiah 51:49 and Revelation 18:24.)  As a general matter, consider that to the extent that “Judah” or “Israel” is no longer seen as “sacrificial victim,” the more it seems to take on the role of “Babylon” in the minds of the authors of the New Testament, while “Jesus”—representing all of the “prophets” and “apostles” at once—takes on more of the role that “Judah” or “Israel” generally had in the minds of the authors of the Old Testament.  (But neither set of authors is ever entirely consistent with regard to whether “Judah” or “Israel” should be thought of as being the victim of “Babylon,” or as functioning as “Babylon” itself.)

Also consider that in Matthew 15:24 Jesus says that he was “sent out [apo-stellō] only to the lost [or destroyed, or ruined: apollymi] sheep of (the) house of Israel.”

[17] It is interesting that Acts 1:16 describes Judas Iscariot as “the one who became guide [hodégos] to those who apprehended Jesus,” just prior to saying in Acts 1:18-19,

This (man) acquired a field from (the) reward of (his) unrighteousness; and, having fallen headfirst [prénés ginomai], he burst open in (the) middle, and all of his bowels poured out.  And it became known to [or common knowledge among: gnōstos] all those dwelling in Jerusalem, so that that field was called in their own language [or dialect: dialektos] “Akeldama,” that is, “Field of Blood.”  [Cf. Revelation 18:24.]

Now, “the Valley of the Son of Hinnom”—in other words, the original, geographical “Gehenna”—is located just outside the literal, physical city of Jerusalem.  So it seems reasonable to suppose that the authors may have meant for Judas to be understood as having acted as the “blind guide” of the parable that I quoted in the main text, with the result that both the “blind guide” (perhaps understood to represent most of the Jewish religious leadership) and the “blind people” following him (perhaps understood to constitute most of the Jewish people) all “stumbled,” leading them to “fall headfirst” off a cliff so that they ended up in “a Pit”—that is, the valley of “Gehenna”; and this was presumably because they chose to “cast away” their “right eye,” metaphorically symbolizing their decision to make plans to cause “Jesus” (representing all of the “prophets” at once) to be “killed” or “destroyed.”  Presumably, however, with the “restoration” and subsequent “return” of that “right eye,” the Jewish religious leaders (or else the Jewish people as a whole) would be redeemed from their “sentence of Gehenna.”

Also, I wonder if the fact that the author of Acts 1:19 made a point of providing the name of the field as it was known “in their own language” or “in their own dialect” was meant to serve as a clue that the “simple people” (i.e., “single people”)—that is, the persons who would not have been able to speak or understand Greek, for example—were the ones who were expected to be able to learn the appropriate lessons from the fate of the “blind ones.”  (According to the symbolic scheme that I am proposing, the “simple people” or “single people” would still have had their “left eyes” fully intact.  Only those with more advanced religious education would have felt bold enough to “cast away” their “left eyes.”)

Alternatively, perhaps the phrase “in their own language” was meant to indicate that the Jewish people as a whole had learned the appropriate lessons, and had left “Babylon” (i.e., the former “Jerusalem”; see Revelation 11:8), and had become residents of (the new) “Jerusalem”; and the “becoming known” of the terrible fate of the “fallen ones” was meant to indicate that the “right eye” had already been “restored,” and that the “fallen ones” had also been “restored” along with it.  In other words, perhaps the meaning of the passage is that the residents of symbolic “Jerusalem” would by that point in the story have come to understand that they had actually been residing in metaphorical “Gehenna” or “hell” all along—where they had been metaphorically “drinking the blood of prophets and saints” (see Revelation 18:24)—and therefore they had actually been in need of “being rescued” or “being saved” all along.

As support for this hypothesis, consider Romans 11:11, in which Paul writes,

Did (the Jews) stumble [ptaiō] in order that they should fall [piptō]?  By no means!

But in Romans 11:22 Paul writes that they have indeed “fallen” (piptō).  So, in order to make sense of that, next consider Romans 11:15:

For if their rejection [apobolé] (means the) reconciliation of (the) world, what (will) their acceptance (mean) if not life from (the) dead?

So it seems that the Jewish people were conceptualized as being metaphorically “dead” or “fallen” until they returned to the regenerated “Israel.”  And while they were metaphorically “dead,” they would be metaphorically located in “Gehenna.”  But that state of “fallenness” would only be a temporary one.

By the way, the Greek word apobolé, meaning “rejection,” is derived from the verb apo-ballō, meaning “to throw off, to cast away, to reject,” which is essentially equivalent in meaning to the phrase ballō apo that is used in Matthew 5:29-30.  It is significant that this word is used in the context of the idea of “life from the dead,” or “resurrection.”  Perhaps Paul was thinking of the Jewish people as serving in the archetypal role of “Jesus Christ” in this particular context.  Moreover, perhaps the expectation of the authors of the New Testament was that the “apostles” would begin by being the “rejected member” or “cast-off member” of the “body” of “Judah,” but the Jewish people would end up in that same role of “rejected member” or “cast-off member”—only this time, the “body” from which that “member” was separated would be the larger one of “Israel”—at which point the Jewish people would be “resurrected” by being “grafted back into” the rest of the “tree” or “body” symbolizing “Israel” (as well as “Christ”).  (See Romans 11:23-24.)

Note that a metaphorical scheme such as this would be strongly analogous to the metaphorical scheme involving the “house of God” or “building of God” that is found, for example, in 1 Peter 2:6-8.  In both cases, that which has been rejected from the whole would serve as the nucleus around which an entirely new whole would grow up.

[18] Perhaps that was because they refused to “make their eye single,” in opposition to Jesus’s exhortation in Matthew 6:22-23.  It is conceivable that the “left eye” was meant to signify the “profane” or “exoteric” way of reading scripture, which the Pharisees presumably rejected (symbolized by “casting away the left eye”); while the “sacred” way of reading scripture—that is, not just the “esoteric,” but the correct “esoteric” way of reading scripture, which would have been associated with the figure of “Jesus”—was also presumably rejected by them (symbolized by “casting away the right eye”).  This would have left them totally “blind” with regard to how they ought to make sense of the scriptures.  And that would have left the “guided” laity equally “blind.”

[19] Again, see Matthew 6:22-23.

[20] I obviously don’t mean to suggest that I believe Paul was literally prepared to start hacking off various parts of his body.  But I still find it significant that he would choose to express himself in such terms.

[21] As a general matter, I think that when one is reading the New Testament, the term “the Jewish people” should be thought of signifying what in more modern-day terms we would simply call “society,” and not what we normally have in mind when we speak of “the Jewish people.”  Usually when people speak of “society,” what they really mean is their own society.  And it must be remembered that the authors of the New Testament were Jewish.  I don’t think those authors meant to criticize “the Jews” per se; I think they meant to criticize “society” in general, of which they felt they had been made victims.  And the same “scapegoating” and “schizophrenogenic” dynamics that were found at the time of the writing of the New Testament can still be found in modern-day societies—which may help to explain the widespread belief in the continuing relevance of the Bible.

[22] Dr. Arieti writes,

During the prepsychotic panic, the patient had, so to say, protected the world from blame and to a large extent had considered himself responsible for his own defeat.  Now [with the onset of acute psychosis] he externalizes again this feeling.  He senses a vague feeling of hostility almost in the air.  The world is terrible.  A sensation of threat surrounds him.  He cannot escape from it.

The psychosis starts not only when these concept-feelings are projected to the external world, but also when they become specific and concrete.  The indefinite feelings become finite, the imperceptible perceptible, the vague menace is transformed into a specific threat. … Whereas often during the third period the patient felt that millions of authorities were justified in having the lowest opinion of him, now he feels that a few malevolent, powerful people are unfair toward him and cause him troubles. [Interpretation of Schizophrenia, p. 123.]

It may be that this sort of negative perception of “the external world” is being reflected in the frequent denunciations of “the world” or “this world” that one finds in the New Testament.  See, e.g., John 15:18, 1 Corinthians 2:12, and 1 John 2:15-17.

[23] And, with that idea in mind, again consider what Jesus says in Matthew 5:30:  “And if your right hand offends you, cut it off and cast (it) away from you.”  The reference to the “right hand” (as opposed to the “left hand”) helps one to see that the schizophrenic-like authors of the New Testament must have had a strong conviction of their own hidden value, and were hoping that that value would eventually be recognized by others.

[24] Arieti writes,

[The new] accusations seem worse than the original self-accusations, but are more easily projected to others.  The patient who believes he is accused feels falsely accused.  Thus, although the projected accusation is painful, it is not injurious to the self-esteem.  On the contrary, in comparison with his prepsychotic state, the patient experiences a rise in self-esteem, often accompanied by a feeling of martyrdom.  The person who is really accused now is not the patient, but the persecutor who is accused of persecuting the patient.  What was an intrapsychic evaluation of the self now becomes an evaluation or an attitude of malevolent others who reside in the external world.  No longer does the patient consider himself bad; the others unfairly think he is bad.  The danger, which used to be an internal one, is now transformed by the psychosis into an external one.  In this transformation actually lies the psychodynamic significance of the paranoid psychosis.  Guilt feeling is eliminated.  In some cases pleasant self-images that were not allowed to exist are now recaptured and often assume a grandiose, distorted, grotesque appearance.  [Ibid., p. 124; the emphasis is in the original.]

Arieti elsewhere writes,

At the same time that the patient rejects these incorporated attitudes from himself, by projecting them back, another process is taking place.  The patient feels free to attribute to himself those attitudes and roles that he wished to give to himself in the past, but could not, because of the checking influence of the surrounding world.  Those fantasies about himself that he had when he was young, fantasies that had to be repressed or discarded because they were unrealistic in dealings with others, have the tendency to come back. … The patient becomes a millionaire, a king, an inventor. …

[I]t is possible to recognize that what occurs is an autochthonous or asocial expansion of the self (what some authors call a hypertrophy of the ego) that is due to the attributing to the self of attitudes and roles that are originated by the self itself.  These attributes are permitted to expand after the unpleasant attitudes, originally introjected from others, are rejected and projected.  That is why the persecutory stage of the paranoid form of schizophrenia is, in some cases, followed by a stage characterized by delusions of grandeur. … Whatever smacked of punishment and threatened the self-image is rejected, and delusional grandeur is permitted to flourish.  [Ibid., pp. 347-48.]

Arieti also writes,

The symptoms of cataclysmic catastrophe that many patients experience, like the feeling that the world has come to an end, must be considered as a subjective interpretation of expanding desocialization.

Delusions of negation have often been described in the European [psychiatric] literature.  The end of the world and the twilight of heaven have arrived.  All people, all men, are involved; the patient has a tremendous task to accomplish. … In my interpretation, things that lose their meanings are destroyed in their symbolic entity.  At the same time there is an attempt to rebuild.  The feelings of ecumenical influence that some patients experience may be due to the attributing of subjective meanings to everything that surrounds them.  Everything around becomes in meaning part of the patient, who consequently may feel he is expanding to a cosmic magnitude.  [Ibid., pp. 348-49.]

[25] Somewhat related to this, Arieti writes,

An incomplete form of this mechanism is found in some neurotic, borderline, prepsychotic, and also psychotic patients.  In these cases the patient continues to accuse, hate, and disparage himself at the same time that he thinks that other people have the same feelings toward him.  Thus, there is a partial projection to other people of the feelings that the patient nourishes toward himself, but there is no repudiation of this self-accusatory component of his psyche, that is, of the self-image of the bad child.  In these instances the mechanism of projection, which is arrested before it reaches full proportions, consists of the fact that people in general are experienced as authorities and are identified with the parents.  It does not consist of a return to others of the derogatory self-image.  In some of these cases the emotional disturbance to which the patient is subjected is terrific.  The you is experienced both outside, in the external world, and inside, in the psyche of the patient.  If the emotional pressure continues or increases, the patient may find relief only in a psychotic attack, which will remove the internal you, that is, the unpleasant image of the self.  [Ibid., p. 124; the emphases are in the original.]

It is worth considering the question of whether the symbolic episode of Christ’s Passion may have been understood by the authors of the New Testament to represent something like the “terrific emotional pressure” spoken of by Dr. Arieti, resulting in the loss of “the internal you”—that is, symbolic “death” followed by a psychotic “rebirth” in which the person is now free of “the self-accusatory component of his psyche” and the sense of guilt produced by it.  (Cf. Matthew 16:24-25.  Also consider Matthew 24:9-14, focusing on its use of the Greek word thlipsis, which can mean “tribulation, anguish, distress,” but which more literally means “pressure, squeezing.”  In addition, notice that in that same passage Jesus is predicting that his disciples would be “hated by all the nations” or “hated by all the Gentiles” up until “the end”—which is at least reminiscent of Dr. Arieti’s description of certain prepsychotic patients’ feeling that accusations are coming at them from all sides.)

[26] I suspect that in the minds of the authors of the New Testament, the distinction between “Judah” and “Israel” more or less tracked this proposed distinction between the “current society” and the “ideal future society.”  Keep in mind that, as a practical matter, whether Jews in the New Testament (including Paul) spoke of “Judah” (or “Judea”) or spoke of “Israel,” they were actually referring to the same set of flesh-and-blood individuals; it was just a matter of how those individuals would be thought about, and how they would think of themselves.  As a practical matter, non-Jewish “Israelites” simply did not exist—not yet, anyway.  (I’m ignoring the distinction between the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, since it is not an important one to focus on.  For example, Paul may have technically been of the tribe of Benjamin—see Romans 11:1—but he still called himself a Jew; see Acts 21:39.)

[27] See, e.g., John 12:16 and 1 Peter 1:21.

[28] Cf. Isaiah chapter 53, Acts 2:22-41, Acts 5:40-41, Romans 11:1-32, and 1 Corinthians 1:23-28.  An especially good illustration of this attitude—one which also indicates the practical equivalence between “Jesus” and “the apostles” in many cases—can be found in 1 Corinthians 4:8-13.

One might think of the “prophets” and “apostles” as essentially being equivalent to “Jesus” while in his still-“unglorified” or still-“humble” stage preceding the “Resurrection” (a stage corresponding to the lowly “foundations” of the “house of God,” as opposed to the lofty “capstone,” corresponding to “Jesus” in his “glorified” or “exalted” stage).  A conceptual approach such as this would help to account for passages such as Ephesians 2:19-21.  (Also see Matthew 23:12.)

In addition, consider that if the very innocence of the victim is what was thought to make it possible for the entire society to be redeemed by the sacrifice, then that would help to explain a passage such as Mark 15:12-14, which says,

And Pilate again said in response to (the Jewish crowd), “So what do you want (that) I do to him who you call the King of the Jews?”  And they again shouted, “Crucify him!”  And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?”  And they shouted even louder, “Crucify him!

In other words, I think the author of this passage may (by the use of a literary device) have chosen to allow the crowd to foresee the benefits to their society coming from the public sacrifice of a completely innocent and yielding victim, since that is what would enable the society to be redeemed (according, that is, to what I think was the probable conception of the authors of the New Testament).  The crowd would thus be announcing its recognition of the “profitability” or “advantageousness” of having the sacrifice take place—in agreement with what Jesus himself seems to have been saying in the parable in Matthew 5:29-30.  That interpretation may sound strange, but it will seem more plausible if one can accept that the sacrifice of “Jesus”—again, representing all of the “prophets” and “apostles” at once—was understood to be the means by which the Jewish people would eventually escape from their “sentence of Gehenna” or state of “perdition,” as indicated by Matthew 23:33-34, quoted above in the main text.  More generally, if the Crucifixion was indeed something good and necessary, and not something to regret having happened—as Christians themselves believe—then it shouldn’t be surprising that the authors of the Gospels might have chosen to depict the Jewish crowd expressing that very same attitude.

(But, not surprisingly with this sort of material, I think this passage was probably meant to be read in two ways.  So the author probably also meant to point to the age-old phenomena of “blaming the victim” and “scapegoating” and the sheer cruelty and bloodlust of the mob, and all those other things that the more traditional, “surface-level” interpretations are likely to emphasize.  And for that reason, I think the passage was probably meant to be understood as highly ironical.)

[29] Otherwise, why would Christians so eagerly await the coming of their Savior?  Apparently they still feel that they are in need of being rescued from something.

[30] See Matthew 6:22-23 and Luke 11:34.