Religion and Philosophy

Was the historical Jesus an anarchist? Anachronism, anarchism and the historical Jesus

By Justin Meggitt

The claim that Jesus was an anarchist has been made by a variety of individuals and movements throughout history. Although there have been significant differences in what has been meant, it is possible to determine the validity of such a judgement. Once initial questions about historicity, methodology, and definition have been addressed, it is apparent that there are a number of recurrent, dominant , motifs within our earliest sources about the figure of Jesus that can legitimately be judged anarchist.

The ‘Kingdom of God’ for example, a concept that pervades the earliest data, includes the active identification and critique of coercive relations of power, and the enactment of new, egalitarian and prefigurative modes of social life, as well as a reflexive, undetermined, and self-creative praxis. The pedagogy of the historical Jesus also appears to have been predominately prefigurative and non-coercive. Although the picture certainly is not uniform, and there are early motifs that can be judged authoritarian and hierarchical, claims that the historical Jesus was an anarchist are legitimate, defensible and valuable.

It is true that if we could follow the precepts of the Nazarene this would be a different world to live in. There would then be no murder and no war; no cheating and lying and profit-making. There would be neither slave nor master, and we should all live like brothers, in peace and harmony. There would be neither poor nor rich, neither crime nor prison, but that would not be what the church wants. It would be what the Anarchists want.

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