Questions of this kind come up so often that I think it worth a serious examination. You say that “this is not the interpretation of Jesus’s intentions as taught by modern Christianity,” but it was not the interpretation of his intentions that was taught at ANY time, including his lifetime. I feel therefore that one must ask why, during the years of his public ministry, he failed so badly to make his intentions clear.
If in fact his intentions were misinterpreted by ALL his listeners during this time, how could he possibly fail to notice this? Why is it that none of the parables for which he was famous seem to have any bearing on the issue that you suggest was at the forefront of his thinking? Why is it that, among all his sayings, only one seems to have a bearing on this issue?
The usual presumption about Jesus was that he was divine or at least divinely inspired, but neither divinity nor divine inspiration is needed to articulate the story in Genesis the way that Ishmael has done (and Ishmael is certainly neither divine nor divinely inspired).
As St. Paul articulated it for all later Christianity, Jesus died on the cross “for our sins.” If this death was instead intended “to cleanse mankind” of the knowledge of good and evil, it was clearly ineffective. The story in Genesis doesn’t describe Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a sin (and of course neither does Ishmael).
Jesus was preoccupied with sin (as was Paul), but Jesus never once mentions the “sin” of Adam and Eve (which seems odd if this particular “sin” was at the forefront of his mind). And if this was the “sin” he had in mind to die for (as Paul would put it), I’m afraid I’m completely unable to see any connection between the two. If Ishmael and Jesus had the same understanding of this matter, why didn’t Ishmael suggest that humanity could be “saved” from this sin by someone’s death (perhaps his). What exactly has death got to do with it?
Ishmael’s point was that we must be made to understand what we’re doing here and that nothing less will make us spit out the fruit of this tree. According to the gospels, it was Jesus’s intention to found a church, but again, Ishmael makes no such suggestion.
It would seem to me that if everything but Jesus’s single agreement with Ishmael is eliminated as fabrication and misunderstanding, then we eliminate his miraculous birth, his divinity (or divine inspiration), all his parables, all but one of his sayings, his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, and are left with nothing but an ordinary man who once said, “Why are you concerned about what you’re going to eat? Look at the birds of the air. They don’t plant or harvest, yet God feeds them. Do you think God will do less for you?”
If this ordinary man was not born miraculously, divine or divinely inspired, was not crucified and resurrected, and didn’t found a church but has only this one statement to his credit, what makes him worth talking about? If, on the other hand, all the things that make him worth talking about (his miraculous birth, his divinity or divine inspiration, his teachings in general, his crucifixion and resurrection, his founding of a church) were veridical events and NOT the results of fabrication or misunderstanding, then I find it impossible to entertain the notion that Jesus and Ishmael had a common understanding of our situation here.
posted: 28 Aug 2000
updated: 28 Aug 2000