Jesus’ Crucifixion From the Olivet Prophecy to Gethsemane & the Fall of Jerusalem

by Neil Godfrey

This follows on from my previous post.Three hours of darkness 2There is nothing new about noticing that the prophecy of the “last days” that Jesus delivered to his inner disciples in Mark 13 contains allusions to events in the ensuing narrative Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I addressed one of these points in the previous post. There are others.

Among them . . . .

Keep in mind that these are answers to the question: Tell us, when shall these things [there shall not be left one stone of the temple upon another] be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled (Mark 13:4)

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up [παραδώσουσιν] to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten. . . . (13:9)

And he that betrayed [παραδιδοὺς] him . . . And all the council sought to put him to death. . . and the servants did strike him . . . and [the soldiers] smote him . . . (14:44, 55, 65; 15:19)

Now the brother shall betray [παραδώσει] the brother to death . . . and shall cause them to be put to death. (13:12)

And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray [παραδώσει] me. (14:18)

And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. (13:16)

And they all forsook him, and fled. And there followed him a certain young man . . . and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked (14:50, 52)

the sun shall be darkened (13:24)

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (13:33)

Now learn a parable of the fig tree (13:28)

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots (11:20)

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (13:32)

Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation (14:38)

Watch ye therefore: for you know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all. Watch. (13:35-37)

And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? . . . And when he returned, he found them asleep again. . . And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (14:37-41)

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Jesus’ Crucifixion As Symbol of Destruction of Temple and Judgment on the Jews

by Neil Godfrey
From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

This post advances another reason to think that the author of the Gospel of Mark depicted the final days of Jesus as a metaphor for the fall of Jerusalem. If so, it follows that the resurrection of Jesus symbolized the emergence of a new “body of Christ” and “Temple of God” in the “ekklesia” or assemblies of Christians (what we think of as the “church”). I owe a special debt to Clark W. Owens whose book on a literary-critical analysis of the gospels, Son of Yahweh, I posted about recently. I also owe much to a few insights advanced by Karel Hanhart in The Open Tomb, on which I have also posted a little.

To begin, let’s recapitulate some of the essentials from those earlier posts.

I am persuaded that the Gospel of Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ tomb was based on a reading of the Greek version of Isaiah 22:16 that describes the destruction of the temple. In Isaiah 22:16 the temple is likened to a tomb carved out of a rock:

What hast thou here? and whom has thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock.

Compare Mark 15:46 speaking of the tomb Joseph of Arimathea used for the body of Jesus:

. . . and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock . . . .

Recall at this point that we know ancient authors of the era in which the gospels were composed loved to imitate, draw upon, rearrange, allude to, transform, other well-known literature. We have numerous examples of this being done in the Gospel of Mark. The author has regularly taken passages from the Book of Daniel, the Psalms, other prophets, 1 and 2 Kings, Genesis and Exodus, and woven them into a new story so that they take on new meanings. We see this at the beginning with the introduction of Jesus through the announcement of John the Baptist. That opening chapter is replete with allusions to Elijah, the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the forty year wandering in the wilderness. The Passion scene at the end is equally rich with allusions to Daniel and Psalms, such as the cry of desperation from the cross, the mocking of Jesus as he was dying, the dividing of his garments, the promise of a return on the clouds in glory. read more »

Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence

by Neil Godfrey

We know Maurice Casey has claimed to have researched the backgrounds of mythicists and claimed that the evidence is clear that most of them are reacting against fundamentalist or similarly strict and closed-minded religious backgrounds. Other scholars such as James McGrath, Jim West and James Crossley have picked up Casey’s claims and repeated them in their online and print publications. They were only too keen to believe Casey’s declarations, of course, and did not even bother to check the evidence Casey presented in his own book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?

So I took note of all the evidence Casey himself cited and drew it up in table format. Lo and behold, it turned out that contrary to Casey’s own claim the evidence he cited demonstrated that the least likely predictor of a person who has published a mythicist argument is a fundamentalist or strict/conservative religious background. Quite the opposite, in fact. The most likely predictor is one who has a liberal (including liberal Catholic) or no church background at all.

I have since been alerted to another published mythicist I overlooked in my earlier table and have now added Ken Humphreys to the list. Ken is neither an American (a species of human for whom Casey seems to have a special loathing — see my earlier posts, especially those dated 8th and 10th of March) and is reputed to have been an atheist all his life. So I guess that evangelical angry lying Jimmy West will have to start blaming the “angry atheists” for this mythicism business now.

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

(Heading above links to the original post)

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background


Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] George Albert Wells
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*


The Biblical Roots of Nazi Racism

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsNot only Christian apologists but even some respected academic historians argue that Christianity had nothing to do with Nazism and that the Holocaust was inspired by atheistic, non-Christian ideologies. Not so, argues Hector Avalos, in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence:

In fact, we shall argue that the Holocaust has its roots in biblical traditions that advocate genocide. (Kindle loc. 4093)

Avalos surveys the range of published viewpoints that argue Hitler and Nazism were driven by atheistic, anti-Christian and pro-evolutionary agendas but writes that

the main theoreticians [among Nazi ideologues] saw themselves as religious. (loc. 4158)

Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"Hector Avalos is already renowned/notorious for The End of Biblical Studies. There he argued that the biblical texts are without any relevance today, or at least are no more relevant than any other writings from ancient times. Scholars who attempt to argue for the moral relevance of the Bible in today’s world, Avalos argues, do so by tendentiously re-interpreting selected passages out of their original contexts and arbitrarily downplaying passages that contradict their claims. Theoretically, Avalos reasons, one could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and likewise focus on the good passages in it and insist they over-ride the bad ones, and that the negative passages should be interpreted symbolically and through the good sentiments we read into the better passages. No-one would attempt to justify the relevance of Mein Kampf by such a method. Yet Avalos points out that that’s the way scholars justify the relevance of the Bible in today’s world.

This post is based on another work by Avalos, Fighting Words, in which he analyses the way religious beliefs can and do contribute to violence. The full thesis is something I will address in a future post. Here I look at just one controversial point made in that book.

Avalos does not deny that Nazism drew upon scientific ideas of its day. But it can also be concluded that these scientific notions of race were extras added to ideas that had a deeper cultural heritage, in particular as they found expression in the holy book of Christianity. A modern and prominent theorist of race, Milford Wolpoff, traces modern ideas of racism right back to Platonic ideas of “essentialism“.

Ernst Haeckel

Plattdüütsch: Ernst Haeckel nadem he ut Italie...

Ernst Haeckel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1913) was perhaps the most influential of evolutionary theorists and writers at the turn of the twentieth century; his views were widely embraced with his book, The Riddle of the World (Die Welträtsel) having sold 100,000 copies before the turn of the century. Haeckel popularized the idea that different human races each evolved from different species of ape-men. Exterminations and exploitation of lesser races by superior ones was considered the inevitable consequence of Darwinism. The Nazi Party’s publications cited Haeckel frequently.

At the same time, Hitler saw racism as compatible with religion, as do many biblical authors. Even Haeckel, who is often maligned for supposedly introducing scientific grounds for genocide, saw himself as simply reexpressing biblical concepts in scientific language.

Note, for example, Haeckel’s comments on his vision of Utopia:

The future morality, free from all religious dogma, and grounded in a clear knowledge of nature’s law, teaches us the ancient wisdom of the Golden Rule … through the words of the Gospel: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

As in Christian and Jewish texts, “your neighbor” originally meant a fellow member of your in-group. Thus, Haeckel’s interpretation of “neighbor,” even if exegetically flawed, was based on the same concept of insider and outsider that is present in the earlier religions.

Avalos likens the Nazis to the “scientific creationists” of their day:

So from Haeckel to Hitler, Nazis did not see themselves as opposing biblical principles so much as they thought that modern science could be used to support, purify, and update those biblical principles. Nazis were often more like the scientific creationists of today who believe their pseudoscience supports the Bible. (loc. 4290-4297)

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels & Theozoology read more »


Maurice Casey Once More (A personal defence)

by Neil Godfrey

jesuscaseyFrom time to time I have half a mind to continue with more of Maurice Casey’s responses to those he sees opponents of himself and his friend Stephanie Fisher in Jesus: Evidence, and Argument or Mythicist Myths, but each time I pick it up I am reminded of how every page drips with such depressing malice.

I should undertake at a future time to show how flat wrong he is about his accounts of several others like Earl Doherty and even D.M. Murdock. (Murdock has certainly expressed some colourful views about me over my differences with some of her works, but Casey has not even been able to get some of the basics of her arguments right.)

But for now to fill in with a short post while I’m preparing several other longer ones for later let me address just one little choice detail Casey leveled at me.

Given Godfrey’s outspoken views, it was almost inevitable that some scholar, despite always being polite to decent colleagues, would reciprocate. Godfrey commented on him, ‘So these are the “honeys” adored by the likes of Maurice Casey’s fans. Charming.’80 There is no excuse for this description, and his removal from Godfrey’s blog, like the removal of Stephanie, is totally hypocritical.

Casey helpfully supplies a footnote to the evidence for my dastardly deed. Presumably it is routine for Casey and those he knows to ignore footnotes since this is the only reason I can imagine he would have added it. The link to which the footnote leads, I think, demonstrates just how hypocritical Casey is for such an accusation.

I invite readers to read the page Casey links to. The post is titled: Highly Esteemed Friends and Supporters of Steph and Maurice Casey.

In particular I would draw any interested reader’s attention to the comments following that post where more context is given.

The comments of the “scholar” that I removed were filled with f***k words. I left one of those comments standing in order to make it clear why I was placing that person’s further comments on moderation. (Nor did I ever “remove” Stephanie Fisher from the blog but I did from time to time place her comments on moderation. She has since commented here quite a few times in order to discuss points with Earl Doherty and to comment on my posts related to Muslims and the Middle East.)

Maurice Casey says this scholar was reacting to my “outspokenness”. Here is the first encounter I ever had with that “scholar”: Two misunderstandings in biblical studies: the nature of “scepticism” and “evidence”. It was from this point on that I was in this person’s line of sight. I was never allowed to post any feedback on his own blog when I thought he had misconstrued anything I had argued or had failed to read my mind and motives correctly.

Here is the post of mine that Casey says provoked this person who is always polite to “decent” people: A serious take on Maurice Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth”.

And here is the good scholar’s comment that Casey apparently felt was entirely justified and to which I was oh so hypocritical in my response. As you can see from my response it never occurred to me that I was dealing with anything other than another hot-headed, foul-mouthed fundamentalist loony. I have since learned that Jim West has listed him (his name is Deane Galbraith if you’ve been too lazy to look up the links so far :-) ) as an up and coming scholar to watch.

Let’s finish off here with a comment I once attempted to post somewhere in yet one more effort to attempt to restore some sane and courteous discussion with Stephanie Fisher, the good friend of Maurice Casey who has in many ways claimed significant responsibility for much of the content of Casey’s book. read more »


Why Today’s Theologians Call Themselves Historians

by Neil Godfrey

symbolicjesusIn The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Contemporary Identity, William Arnal gives us a reasonable explanation for why Historical Jesus scholars today are characterized by:

  • a general assumption that the gospel narratives reflect at some level genuine historical events;
  • a minimizing of the criterion of dissimilarity;
  • a preference for a criterion of plausibility;
  • an explicit, even strident, emphasis on Jesus’ “Jewishness”;
  • a preference to present themselves as historians more than theologians.

In other words, whatever happened to Rudolf Bultmann and good-old scholarly scepticism?

Arnal’s discussion is a broad one encompassing scholarly, political, religious and cultural identities. This posts focuses on only the scholarly identity. I give some of the background relevant to this new scholarly identity formation since the 1970s and 1980s since it helps us understand more completely what has been going on that has led theologians to stress their apparent credentials as historians.

Up until the 1970s and 1980s New Testament scholarship was dominated by “Bultmannian, post-Bultmannian, or Bultmann-trained scholars”.

The “New Quest” for the Historical Jesus is traditionally said to have begun in 1953 with a publication by Ernst Käsemann arguing that the only way to be assured a saying of Jesus was authentic was that it stood distinct from both Christianity and Judaism. This was called the criterion of double dissimilarity. It did not mean that Jesus said nothing that overlapped with distinctively Jewish or Christian ideas but that the only ones we could be reasonably confident came from Jesus were those that were dissimilar to both.

Ernst Käsemann was a student of Bultmann.

Other scholars prominent in this “New Quest” (that is, the apparent revival of Historical Jesus studies after Albert Schweitzer is said to have closed the curtain on the “First Quest”) have been

  • James M. Robinson — an American, but whose D. Theol was from Basel;
  • Norman Perrin — an American, not a student of Bultmann but a student of Jeremias.

This “New Quest” throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in both Europe and North America, could be most distinctively described as follows:

  • A focus on the sayings of Jesus as the key to understanding Jesus;
  • Emphasis on the criterion of double dissimilarity as the key to identifying authentic sayings of Jesus;
  • A “considerable skepticism about the historicity of any of the gospel material, especially narrative but also sayings materials’ (The Symbolic Jesus, p. 41).

But Arnal points out that all of that changed “with a vengeance” in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The Third Quest”

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by Neil Godfrey

While we clog our synapses with irrelevant ancient texts let’s hope Guy McPherson has it wrong . . . . .


And part 2 with some pretty good priorities . . . . read more »

Shalom As Hegemony

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsI am currently absorbed in reading Hector Avalos’s book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. It’s giving me a lot to think about. Avalos challenges perspectives relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Islamic religion that I have often posted on this blog. It is too soon to post anything revisionist but I have just finished a snippet I can share in the meantime.

Self-serving translations are mostly responsible for representing the Hebrew shalom as “peace” in many instances in the Hebrew Bible.(Kindle, location 2178)

Hector Avalos shows us that both the etymology and use of the word in the Hebrew Bible relates to imperial dominance rather than benign relationships. He cites Gillis Gerleman:

Gerleman notes that the piel intensive, with some 90 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, is the most frequent of all the verb forms of the root. Te normal Qal (ground) form occurs 8 times, the Hiphil (causative) form about 13 times. The noun form occurs some 240 times. The overwhelming meaning, whether as a verb or as a noun, is usually “repayment,” “reward,” or “retaliation.” (citation: page 4 of Gerleman, Gillis. “Die Wurzel [šlm].” Zeitschrift für die Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 85 (1973): 1-14.)

Take Job 22:21

Agree with God, and be at peace.

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Historical Jesus Scholarship in a “Neoliberal” World

by Neil Godfrey

jesus-in-an-age-of-neoliberalism2This post and several ensuing ones will be about what we can learn about historical Jesus scholarship from the book Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology by Professor James Crossley.

The second half of this post addresses some background that readers should understand as they read my engagement with Crossley’s book. There I address Crossley’s personal animosity towards me and his conviction that my past treatment of his works has been grotesquely unfair.

Crossley’s main thesis is

to show how Jesus is a cultural icon in the sense that he is reconstructed by historians not simply as a figure for Galilee in the 20s and 30s but also, intentionally or not, as a figure for our ‘postmodern’ times. . . . (p. 8)

The thesis extends to arguing that the same Jesus becomes compatible with neoliberalism’s political agendas and very often subtly perpetuates “anti-Jewishness”.

[T]he emphasis could be placed on the greatest historic critic of our age, an obscure article in an evangelical journal or a rant on a blog: they all provide insight into our cultural contexts, irrespective of how good or bad they are. . . .

This book is at least as much about contemporary politics, ideology and culture as it is about Jesus, and in many ways, not least due to unfamiliar approaches in historical Jesus studies, this is almost inevitable. (pp. 8-10)

Obviously any cultural artefact provides insight into its cultural context, but when Crossley limits cultural context in his book to “postmodernism” and “neoliberalism” in their primarily political and racial-cultural manifestations I suspect he is presenting a two-dimensional perspective of scholarship. Quite often it appears his argument is another application of “parallelomania” in the sense that any scholarly interpretation that can be matched to a “neoliberal” or “postmodern” concept becomes the basis of his argument. His thesis would have been more deeply grounded had he been able to demonstrate more consistently, not just sporadically, how certain changes in views and presentations resulted from the direct interaction with political and cultural pressures.

Now I happen to agree with much of Crossley’s own political views. So in one major respect he had me onside from the beginning with Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism, just as he did with his earlier companion book, Jesus in the Age of Terror. I found a number of aspects of his book insightful. I do think that in a number of instances he does make a sound case. Others, as I have indicated above, lacked rigour, were only superficially supported, ill-defined or simplistically conceived; and on occasion it seemed Crossley indulges in soap-box political declamations against his colleagues’ views while almost losing any solid relationship with historical Jesus studies. He appears to have assumed too much on the basis of partial evidence. Overall the book tends to read like an extended editorial opinion piece. So his preface overstates what follows when it says:

It is hoped that this book will establish the general case for the importance of the context of neoliberalism for understanding contemporary scholarship and for others to provide new case studies. This book is merely about certain examples of the impact of neoliberalism in understanding Jesus and contemporary scholarship. (pp. ix-x)

The “case studies” or “certain examples” in the book are of variable authenticity. Several names appear to have been dumped in the neoliberalism matrix with only superficial justifications that overlook evidence for alternative perspectives. Worst of all, one is left wondering if Crossley’s book is a thinly veiled swipe at scholarship that disagrees with his own (and his PhD supervisor Maurice Casey’s) problematic assumptions, methods and (even to some extent) conclusions about the historical Jesus and Christian origins. Unfortunately Crossley appears to have prepared in this book a rationale for dismissing anyone who disagrees with him on these points as “politically incorrect”.

But Crossley would protest:

I do not think that all historical Jesus scholarship is simply ‘reducible’ to an outworking of neoliberalism or simply historically wrong even if it does seem that way. I still have some sympathies with some fairly traditional modes of historical criticism and I am aware that there are strands of Jesus scholarship, and biblical scholarship, which can at least be felt threatening to power.(p. 14)

Examples of the latter are liberation theology in Latin America and works by Keith Whitelam and Nadia Abu El-Haj.

I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

In these posts (I expect they will be strung out over some weeks) I hope to point out where I think Crossley has got things spot on and where he could have got things a bit more spot on. More generally, I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

And I do invite James Crossley to notify me if at any point I misrepresent anything he has written and to explain clearly (civilly would be a bonus) exactly how I have done so.

So here we go.

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If you want to read about Jesus’ wife . . . .

by Neil Godfrey

. . . . then go to Peter Kirby’s blog where has a list of Blogs Abuzz for Jesus’ Wife.

I saw the Harvard Theological Review article was out around midnight last night so decided to shut down my computer and get some sleep.

Sorry, not interested.


Is Oral Tradition Like the Old Telephone Game?

by Tim Widowfield
An early 20th century candlestick phone being ...

“Yes, Muriel, that’s exactly what he said: ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers.’”

Long distance runaround

In several of Bart Ehrman’s books on the New Testament, he likens the transmission of traditions about Jesus’ words and deeds to the old telephone game, or as our friends in the Commonwealth call it, Chinese whispers (now often considered offensive). He refers to this model in his lectures, too, telling it roughly the same way in at least three of the courses I’ve listened to. Sometimes, as in the latest text on Jesus’ divinity, How Jesus Became God (HJBG), he describes the process without naming it.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Ehrman’s boilerplate explanation, here it is from his most recent book. I wouldn’t normally quote so much text verbatim, but I think it’s crucial for understanding Ehrman’s theory of the transmission of the Jesus tradition.

If the authors [of the gospels] were not eyewitnesses and were not from Palestine and did not even speak the same language as Jesus, where did they get their information? Here again, there is not a lot of disagreement among critical scholars. After Jesus died, his followers came to believe he was raised from the dead, and they saw it as their mission to convert people to the belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus were the death and resurrection of God’s messiah and that by believing in his death and resurrection a person could have eternal life. The early Christian “witnesses” to Jesus had to persuade people that Jesus really was the messiah from God, and to do that they had to tell stories about him. So they did. They told stories about what happened at the end of his life—the crucifixion, the empty tomb, his appearances to his followers alive afterward. They also told stories of his life before those final events—what he taught, the miracles he performed, the controversies he had with Jewish leaders, his arrest and trial, and so on. (HJBG, p. 47, emphasis mine)

Ehrman starts by presupposing an original set of eyewitness testimonies. He assumes the disciples really saw and heard Jesus and then told stories about him after his death. Note that Ehrman doesn’t necessarily believe that the resurrection stories were literally, historically true; rather, the disciples came to believe they were true.

These stories circulated. Anyone who converted to become a follower of Jesus could and did tell the stories. A convert would tell his wife; if she converted, she would tell her neighbor; if she converted, she would tell her husband; if he converted, he would tell his business partner; if he converted, he would take a business trip to another city and tell his business associate; if he converted, he would tell his wife; if she converted, she would tell her neighbor . . . and on and on. Telling stories was the only way to communicate in the days before mass communication, national media coverage, and even significant levels of literacy (at this time only about 10 percent of the population could read and write, so most communication was oral). (HJBG, p. 47, emphasis mine)

Long time waiting to feel the sound

He imagines Christianity slowly spreading orally from person to person, one on one, with people telling stories about Jesus in their own words. Still, the presumption is that the stories came from sources that were originally reliable. He writes:
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Is Oral Tradition Really Behind the Gospels? — another Kelber argument considered

by Neil Godfrey

henaut1This post continues with the series on Barry W. Henaut’s Oral Tradition and the Gospels, a critique of the assumption that oral traditions lie behind the gospel narratives. I have added to Henaut’s case more extensive quotations from works he is criticizing so we can have a better appreciation of both sides of the question.

Oral Clustering and Literary Texts

Kelber argues (rightly) that a hallmark of oral style is the clustering of genres, the sort of thing we can see in the Gospel of Mark where we have clusters of miracle stories together (2.1-3.6), clusters of parables (4.1-37), apophthegmatic controversy stories (11.27-12.37) and logoi (sayings) (13.1-37).

This sounds logical enough, and Kelber points to studies by W. J. Ong, E. Havelock and A. B. Lord (links are to the relevant works online or information about the works) to establish his point that oral communicators tend to group similar types of material for easier recall.

But such oral grouping of sayings brings with it a casualty when an author attempts to put it all in writing. An easy flowing chronological tale is easily lost. This is what lies behind the monotonous use of “and” (kai) in Mark as tale after tale is strung together with little carefully arranged narrative structure (so argues Kelber). It also explains

  • the preference in the text for direct speech;
  • the dominance of the historical present;
  • the lack of ‘artistically reflected prose’;
  • the incomplete characterization of Jesus;
  • the way the narrative is little more than a simple series of events;
  • the preference for the concrete over the abstract.

Kelber classifies the various stories in the Gospel of Mark into Heroic Tales, Polarization Stories and Didactic Stories. The distinctive patterns in each of these types, and the way these types are clustered together, he argues, testifies to them being derived from oral sources.

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Daniel’s end time prophecies in context: 1

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Horsley in his 2007 publication, Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea, alerts us to ancient Mesopotamian prophetic texts that have remarkable similarities to our well-known Book of Daniel. I find it most interesting to read these other texts in order to appreciate better the context and nature of our canonical book that has played a key role in New Testament literature and subsequent apocalyptic and millenarian beliefs.

Recall Daniel 11, that detailed prophecy of the king of the north moving against the king of the south and the king of the south rising up and the manipulation of powers by flatteries etc etc etc, all a detailed “prophecy” of the political struggles between the Seleucid (Syrian) and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) empires over the region of Judea. . . . Interestingly there is a remarkably similar (generically and stylistically) type of prophecy from Hellenistic Babylon, an Akkadian text known as the Dynastic Prophecy. It’s survives in a fragmented state, but we can see its striking similarity to the kind of text we read in Daniel 11:2-45 nonetheless. I have copied this from the text found on Scribd, apparently derived from publications by Grayson and Longman.

[...] me. [...] me. [...] left. [...] great. [...]

seed. [...] he sees.

[...] a later day. [...] will be overthrown. [...]

will be annihilated. [...] Assyria. [...] silver (?) and [...] will attack and [...] Babylon, will attack and [...] will be overthrown. [...] will life up and [...] will come/go [...] will seize [...] he will destroy [...] will shroud [...] he (=Nabonidus) will bring ex[tensive booty] into Babylon. [...] he (= the Achaemenids/Elam) will decorate the Esagil and the Ezida . [...] he will build the palace of Babylon. [...] Nippur to Babylon. He will exercise kingship [for x year]s.

. . . .

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Oral Tradition Taken for Granted (continued)

by Neil Godfrey

henaut1Let’s continue with this series that I left hanging nearly a year ago now. . . .

We’re looking at the way oral tradition has been assumed to lie behind many of the Gospel narratives about Jesus and at the arguments that have been marshaled to support that assumption. We are basing these posts upon the published version of a the doctoral thesis by Barry W. Henaut, Oral Tradition and the Gospels: The Problem of Mark 4.

The last post in the series finished with:

To the one who has ears, Hear!

Ancient literature was mostly written to be read aloud for the ear.

Rabbis apparently even opposed silent reading since hearing the sounds of the words was thought to aid memory and guard against distortions of meaning.

But this raises a problem for the models of faithful oral transmission.

If ancient literature was primarily a medium for the ear, and the authors of this literature constructed their texts to appeal to the ear, then how can we be sure that what they are writing is the original word that has come down to them? Or what hope have we of knowing that at no point of the oral transmission did someone change the original words to make the idea more palatable to the ear?

We move on now to Henaut’s discussion of another landmark scholar in the field of oral vis à vis textual gospel studies, Werner Kelber. Kelber raised serious questions about the models that had been proposed by Bultmann and Gerhardsson who were discussed in the earlier posts. (Bultmann and Gerhardsson had argued that sayings of Jesus had a particular Sitz im Leben (each saying had its own particular social setting) and that communities were repositories of oral traditions and safeguarding their long-term consistency. read more »