Monthly Archives: June 2009

Adam and Eve (and Babel): late additions to the Old Testament

Margaret Barker writes in “The Older Testament” that “the Adam and Eve myth in its present form is not integral to the Old Testament. It has all the signs of being a late addition” (p.23). Thus:

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...

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  • The story is isolated. Not a single prophet, psalm or narrator makes any reference to this story of their creation and Fall (von Rad)
  • Later biblical narratives stress the value of atonement. Sin is a matter of momentary transgressions of the Law. It is as if the narrative of the Fall, and its messages for the nature of mankind and sin, are unknown to the rest of the OT. (Eichrodt)

I have been partial to the argument that the Jewish Scriptures as we have them originated from Persian times (albeit our version of course dates from the Massoretic text post 70 c.e.). I suspect many of the pre-Abraham stories were scarcely matters of interest or knowledge among the various scribal schools of the province of Jehud.

And Babel, too

I am reminded of another suggestion that the story of the scattering of peoples through language confusion at Babel first surfaced some time in Hellenistic era. As it stands, it informs readers that Babylon was left deserted and unfinished. Every reader who comes to that point must deep down, even if only for a nanosecond, wonder how that fits with the later power of Babylon waging a war of conquest against the Kingdom of Judah. But if the author of that story knew only the Babylon of the third century b.c.e. after it had been to a very large extent deserted, he could have been forgiven for thinking he was composing a “just so” etiological tale of how it came to be that way.

Babylon, Iraq, 1932 CALL NUMBER: LC-M33- 14474...
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The mystical return of Jesus to “many mansions”

In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

There is nothing like this statement in the synoptic gospels. Many interpret this passage in John to mean that Jesus is going to prepare a room in a heavenly palace for each believer who will eventually get there. But the author of the gospel appears to explain what he means here just a few verses later, and it has nothing to do with a believer going to heaven and finding a nice apartment room there with their name on the door. Rather, the room is the body of the individual believer, and that Jesus and the Father will descend to earth to make their mystical union with each believer.

The larger house or mansion that contains all of these many rooms or abodes or homes is the “church” or wider community of the Johannine Christians.

This is another snippet from John Ashton’s Understanding the Fourth Gospel, 2nd ed. He begins with Hoskyns suggesting that the starting point for interpreting this verse is the fulfilment of a prophecy found in both canonical and noncanonical Jewish writings:

Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8; c.f. Exod. 29:45; Lev. 26:11-12)

And I will set my sanctuary in their midst for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them . . . (Ezekiel 37:26-27)

For behold! I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord. (Zechariah 2:10)

And I will build my sanctuary in their midst, and I will dwell with them and be their God, and they shall be my people . . . (Jubilees 1:17)

This suggestion is plausible and attractive. If Hoskyns is right, then the μοναι (AV “mansions”) of 14:2, individual rooms or apartments in the house of God, are reinterpreted in 14:23 as places on earth, localized in the community, where not only Jesus but God himself, coming in a cultic or mystical manner, can find a welcome. (Understanding, p.441)

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:22-23)

Another scholar (Aune) is cited by Ashton as suggesting that the term for “house” in 14:2 and 8:35 was probably used by the Johannine community of Christians to refer to themselves. For this reason, Aune also interpret’s “mansions” as a reference to each individual believer in whom dwells the spirit of the Father and the Son.

That is, according to the Gospel of John, the “coming of Jesus Christ” is not a “parousia” at a climactic “end of the age” event, nor is it the resurrection, nor is it the sending of the Holy Spirit. Rather,

[i]t presages a mystical union of awesome intimacy, one taht indicates the profoundly contemplative character of the Johannine community.

Ashton is aware that many Protestant writers don’t like to use words like “mysticism”, but that the above interpretation of Jesus and the Father making their home with believers in their “rooms” (bodies, minds) is a much more coherent and obvious explanation than the “going to heaven” idea preferred by many believers today.

The Mansions, Brisbane

How could I resist including this pic (The Mansions) that Zemanta threw up for me while typing the above post. I never knew I grew up and lived so many years so close to heaven -- my old hometown, Brisbane, Australia.

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An Asian news perspective on Iran

In Asia Tims Online, US misunderstanding on Iran lingers By Ali Gharib:

Some extracts:

But much of the attention in Washington and elsewhere in the US is often misplaced, misguided, or completely detached from the realities currently embroiling Iran in its most significant crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

US experts with firsthand knowledge of Iran grew older and their knowledge grew more obsolete. . . . . “We have a whole generation of foreign service officers who didn’t learn Farsi.”

“I was the point person on Iran from 2005 to 2008, and I never once met an Iranian official,”

Many pundits and politicians in the US view the current crisis as an opportunity to instigate a regime change in Iran, projecting their own aspirations on those of the demonstrators . . . . .

. . . . no credible evidence has emerged to suggest that the protest movement as whole endorses an overthrow of the system.

Undeterred by those realities, or perhaps unaware of the dynamics, US commentators continue to present the protesters as opposed to the system of the Islamic Republic.

the battle being waged in Iran is between two factions within the regime. Even Mousavi’s faction, . . . does not necessarily want to install a democracy in the Western sense.

“The neo-cons know nothing about Iran, nothing about the culture of Iran, . . . They have no interest in understanding Iran, in speaking to any Iranian other than Iranian exiles who support the idea of invasions

“There are people who . . . were worried, as some wrote in op-eds, that Mousavi would be a distraction and would make it easier to Iranians to build a nuclear weapon. And now all a sudden they want to be on his side? Go away.”

(Inter Press Service)

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Who sees the Son of Man coming, according to Mark’s gospel?

Mark 13:25-26:

Quote:
and the stars of the heaven shall be falling, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory,

Often noncanonical (and sometimes canonical) Jewish literature of the Second Temple period equates stars of heaven with angels. Powers of heaven are certainly angelic powers.

So is Mark here saying that it is these angels who will see the Son of Man coming etc?

What does the Greek in this case suggest re the ones who see?

Reporters on Iran: FACTS, please.

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission)’s correspondent, Ben Knight, has an article for the national news detailing his “expulsion” from Iran.

Here is the critical passage:

Then, on the day after the eight civilians were killed, our Iranian translator took a phone call with a message from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which oversees the foreign media in Iran.

All press cards had been cancelled; journalists were banned from covering any unauthorised gatherings; and we were to work only in our offices or hotels.

The message was clear enough. But then this bit was added on the end: ‘The police are no longer in charge of the city; it is now under the authority of the Revolutionary Guards.’

It was obviously sheer intimidation. And to be brutally honest, it worked.

Now I have not read as much as many others have about the details of expulsions of reporters from Iran. I would not be surprised if many representing mainstream news outlets have been expelled. But the reason I say that is that from the coverage I do read — from a miscellany of independent reporters on the ground in Iran — that there have been strong indications of pro-government demonstrations and other indications of even perhaps majority support for the present government, while the mainstream media only seems to report the anti-government evidence.

I cite Ben Knight’s reporting above as an example of the sort of confusion that is being fed the western audiences.

The sole source of Ben Knight’s directive to leave Iran under “government orders” was an Iranian translator relaying what he/she said they heard on a phone call claiming to be from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. Knight confesses he had been scared enough not even to check out the veracity of that phonecall, but to get out of the country immediately. Admittedly he had only one day left on his visa, and for that reason did not want to risk any other activity. But I would be interested to know if since his return he has reapplied to enter, or if any ABC reporters have applied to enter and what the response has been from Iran.

But we are not told anything like this.

All we are left with is the impression — the impression — that the Iranian authorities had expelled Ben Knight. We do not know from the evidence he cites if it was true or not. Nor can Knight know, if we take his report at face value. Was Ben Knight really targeted for intimidation? If he was, we have questions about why Robert Fisk can continue, with other reporters, to send back critical messages of Iran’s government and the heroism of its people.

Ben Knight in his original article (see the link above) refers to police on motor cycles, but he does not give us evidence to enable readers to affirm that in every case motor-cycle riders were indeed police, and in a previous post there was a picture of Iranian civilians riding motor-cycles through streets showing evidence of rioting/destruction. So what can a thoughtful reader to conclude if anything? Knight also refers to civilians mobbing his team because of their camera, and even refers to a hand being placed over a lense — but again there is no way of knowing from his report if this was a civilian’s hand or a policeman’s.

Now when I compare all that with previous posts here of Robert Fisk being allowed to continue reporting in Iran, and even relaying in his reports discussions he has with other reporters in Iran — SINCE BEN KNIGHT’S departure — I can only be left with questions in my mind.

Mainstream media clearly cannot be relied on as a sole source of information coming from this country at this moment.

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A Gospel of John link to the Book of Enoch – and a meaningful death without a resurrection

My previous post discussed John Ashton’s observation that the Prologue of the Gospel of John owes something to the ancient noncanonical Jewish beliefs about Wisdom as expressed in Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Ben Sira. This post is intended to be read as a part of that post.

ashtonWithout wanting to misrepresent the central themes of John Ashton’s book, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (2nd ed) — it is NOT about the noncanonical sources of the Gospel of John as I might appear to be suggesting here — there is the other side of the message of the Prologue that Ashton also addresses, and that is the return of the Logos from earth back to heaven.

The Prologue concludes with Jesus returning to the bosom of the Father in heaven:

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten [. . . varying MSS lines for God or Son . . .] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. (John 1:18)

As Ashton remarks, with the return of the Son of God to the Father at the end of the Prologue, the story is in effect over before it begins.

But the theme of Jesus returning to the Father is picked up again later in the Gospel. Jesus’ death is depicted by the evangelist as an ascent to heaven, a return to the Father who sent him, an ascent back to his original home in heaven with the Father:

Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away . . . Where I go you cannot come” . . . Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know . . .” (John 8:21, 28)

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all . . . to myself” (John 12:32)

“I am going to the Father (John 14:12, 28)

If the Wisdom of Ben Sira expresses a Jewish belief that “Wisdom” was sent into the world but was rejected by the world, with the result that only a chosen few (Israel) received Wisdom as their own where she could dwell (until rejection and failure to recognize her set in), another noncanonical Jewish book, 1 Enoch, completes this thought by declaring that after Wisdom had been sent she returned to her place in heaven.

Wisdom found no place where she could dwell, and her dwelling was in heaven. Wisdom went out in order to dwell among the sons of men, but did not find a dwelling; wisdom returned to her place and took her seat in the midst of angels. (1 Enoch 42:1-2)

This is the conclusion of the Prologue and it is also the conclusion of the Gospel of John. (The resurrection and epilogue are clumsily added end-tags that add nothing to the message and meaning of the Gospel.)

Jesus, after having been sent by the Father from heaven with a revelation from God — a revelation that is expressed in the Gospel narrative’s Works, not Words, since the words themselves “reveal” nothing more than that Jesus was the revealer (Ashton building on Bultmann) — returns to his home in heaven and to the Father who sent him.

Thus Jesus, like Wisdom as attested in noncanonical Jewish scriptures, is sent from heaven, descends therefore from heaven, is rejected on earth, finds a dwelling place among a few, then ascends back to heaven.

As Ashton remarks, (from memory) if this is not gnosticism, it is (nonetheless awfully) close.

This notion of descending from heaven and ascending back to heaven is also a Son of Man motif in the Gospel. This is established from the beginning when Jesus tells Jesus that Nathaniel will see the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (1:51).

The descending and ascending motif is also a noncanonical Wisdom motif. If (as is argued elsewhere and by others) the Son of Man is associated with the cult of royalty, kings, in Israel (compare the development of the notion of “Son of Man” from the original Aramaic text in Daniel where a kingdom of Israel is to replace the kingdoms of gentiles represented by beasts), then it appears that the Gospel of John represents an attempt to merge this royal Son of Man with the idea of the Logos, the true Wisdom that is replacing the Law of Moses (1:17), descending and ascending in relation to its home in heaven.

We thus see here in the Gospel of John how a death of the heavenly messenger, the Christ even (though this title is not overly emphasized, apparently, in the original strata of the Gospel of John) is seen as a positive event in its own right, and requires no resurrection sequel to touch it up with extraneous “hope”. In the Gospel of John the death of Christ is equated as a glorification of Jesus, an ascent to heaven, a return to the Father.

In addition to the above passages cited from GJohn, we have:

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:23-24)

Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified . . . (John 13:31 in context of Judas going out to betray Jesus and initiate the events leading to his death)

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son,  . . . .
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
(John 17:1, 5)

For the Johannine school of Christianity, the death of Jesus was in and of itself a glorious thing — it was Jesus’ return to heaven and the Father. His being “lifted up” by crucifixion was paradoxically actually a “lifting up” back to heaven!

One can begin to see how the gospel’s inclusion and rewriting of resurrection appearances of Jesus can be argued as superfluous. There are several reasons for thinking that they were never part of the original text quite apart from the above. Examples: angels appear to deliver one-liners without waiting for answers; the appearance of Jesus to the disciples fearfully locking themselves in a room knows nothing of the next scene where we learn that Thomas was missing; etc. Indeed, as Gregory Riley argues in Resurrection Reconsidered, someone was using the Gospel of John’s turf to argue against other Christians who followed Mary, Peter and Thomas as their lead-disciples.

One conclusion:

John Ashton’s Understanding the Fourth Gospel is not about noncanonical sources of the gospel. But he does offer enough evidence to remind us that understanding Christian origins requires a broader outlook than seeking to relate everything in the New Testament gospels back to something in the canonical Jewish literature, or Old Testament.

Image from http://comingflood.com/ancient-texts

Image from http://comingflood.com/ancient-texts

 

Evolution of Gospel of John’s Prologue from the Wisdom of Ben Sira

It seems almost trivial to write a post based upon John Ashton’s discussion (Understanding the Fourth Gospel 2nd ed.) of the theological links between the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) and the Prologue in the Gospel of John, given the depths he explores throughout the gospel. But even though it’s only a pimple on a much larger discussion, I found it interesting enough (and short enough) to write about anyway.

Beginning of the Gospel of John from a pocket ...

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Most of us know the Prologue of John well enough. The Word was with God in the beginning, become flesh, rejected by his own, finds a place among his disciples, . . . .

But first, a select look at Wisdom (a “she” in the OT) in the pre-Christian Jewish literature:

In the Jewish Scriptures (Christianity’s Old Testament) and noncanonical writings Wisdom appears as a feminine figure who is a favourite of God.

Wisdom is speaking in Proverbs 8:30

Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him (or God’s “darling and delight” and “playing in his presence continually” in the NEB).

Ashton believes that this playful feminine figure appears in the guise of the masculine and more severe figure of the Logos, the Word, in the Gospel of John. But how? What was the stepping stone between the two, since the gulf seems too great to have been reached in a single leap?

John Ashton sees the link in Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Ben Sira, or of Jesus the Son of Sirach.

By an amazing leap of theological imagination he had identified Wisdom, who had ‘come forth from the mouth of the Most High and covered the earth like a mist’ with the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law which Moses commanded us. (p. 503, Understanding)

Thus Sirach 24:3

I came out of the mouth of the most High, and covered the earth as a cloud/mist.

and 24:23

All these things are the book of the covenant of the most high God, even the law which Moses commanded for an heritage unto the congregations of Jacob.

Note, of course, how John’s Prologue swaps the law of Moses with the Logos. (For the Law was given through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ.)

Earlier in Sirach — 24:4-7

I [Wisdom] dwelt in high places, and my throne is in a cloudy pillar.
I alone compassed the circuit of heaven, and walked in the bottom of the deep.
In the waves of the sea and in all the earth, and in every people and nation, I got a possession.
With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?

Then Sirach 24:8

So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest, and said, Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thine inheritance in Israel.

Compare also with John’s Prologue

Sirach 24:9

He created me from the beginning before the world

and in another apocryphal writing, the Wisdom of Solomon 9:4

Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne

When Wisdom, who had dwelt from the beginning with God, entered the world as the Law and God’s special gift to Israel, she (Wisdom) began to have a history. But that history was essentially one of “incomprehension and rejection”. (p. 504)

Compare the themes above with those in the Prologue of John:

  • The Word (Logos) dwelt from the beginning with God, as did Jewish Wisdom
  • The Word was sent by God to the earth, as was Jewish Wisdom
  • The Word thus came to God’s own (Jews) but if did not find a dwelling place, as Wisdom also came to God’s own (his creation – all races)
  • But God did grant a few to welcome the Word to make its home among them, just as God gave Wisdom as a special gift to Israel.
  • The Word tabernacled among men, as Wisdom also tabernacled on earth.
  • The Word suffered rejection and disbelief, as did Wisdom.

And beyond John’s gospel

Sirach also resonates with other Wisdom passages in gospels other than that of John.

Sirach 24:33

I will yet pour out doctrine [teaching] as prophecy, and leave it to all ages for ever.

Compare Luke 11:49

Therefore the Wisdom of God also said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute.”

and Mattew 23:34

Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city.

Many scholars have seen the above Lukan passage as a very early strata of a Christian saying because of its link with personified Wisdom, and believe Matthew “modernized” the saying (not from Luke, but from the same source Luke used for the passage.) That is certainly a plausible explanation in its own right, but when we compare the above theological ambience of Sirach with the Gospel of John, which many scholars declare to be the latest written gospel, the question of the age and source of the Lukan passage (being very primitive) is not necessarily so secure. Especially so if we take note of those scholars who argue Luke ante-dates John. It is not unthinkable (though I do not have the Greek skills to argue the point in depth) that the Lukan passage shared the lateness of John’s — with John developing a theology of identifying Jesus with Wisdom, and a second century Luke (or at least a Lukan redactor who also wrote Acts) attempting to tie bits of John with the other gospels as and where he found it possible to create a more “catholic” (and anti-Marcionite) gospel grounded in “Judaism”. (See my notes on Tyson for details.)

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Seeing Through All the Propaganda About Iran

This can be accessed via Information Clearing House or from onsite direct.

From the site: Eric Margolis is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

A little democracy in the Islamic Middle East is a dangerous thing for the west. When given the choice people tend to vote “the wrong way”. Wonder why? Our wars and other military ventures we support have all had the noblest of intentions and the best interests of the people at heart. Seems only western backed brutal torture-hungry anti-women barbaric punishing dictatorial regimes as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco can be relied on to be our buddies. But can’t see why the ordinary folks of those regimes have any reason to hate us.

Some extracts:

Meanwhile, we have been watching an intensifying western propaganda campaign against Iran, mounted by the US and British governments. What we hear is commentary and analysis that comes from bitterly anti-regime Iranian exiles, “experts” with an ax to grind, and US pro-Israel neocons yearning for war with Iran.

In viewing the Muslim world, Westerners keep listening to those who tell them what they want to hear, rather than the facts. We are at it again in Iran.

Washington has been attempting to overthrow Iran’s Islamic government since the 1979 revolution and continues to do so in spite of pledges of neutrality in the current crisis.

While the majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, Western intelligence agencies and media are playing a key role in sustaining the uprising and providing communications, including the newest electronic method, via Twitter. These are covert techniques developed by the US during recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-US governments to power.

US and British efforts to subvert Iran’s government could yet blow up in our faces. And do we really need another monster crisis after Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Palestine?

Meanwhile, other Mideast nations allied to the US will look at Iran and conclude that giving any democratic rights can be downright dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.

Robert Fisk (thankfully a few such reporters do exist) sifting fact from fantasy in Iran

Robert Fisk’s latest from Iran in The Independent:

In Tehran, Fantasy and Reality Make Uneasy Bedfellows

Some excerpts . . . .

On the myth of Iranian crackdown on western reporters (and CNN bias):

But then we had the famous instruction to journalists in Tehran from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance that they could no longer report opposition street demonstrations. I heard nothing of this. Indeed, the first clue came when I refused to be interviewed by CNN (because their coverage of the Middle East is so biased) and the woman calling me asked: “Why? Are you worried about your safety?” Fisk continued to spend 12 hours a day on the streets. I discovered there was a ban only when I read about it in The Independent. . . . . .

On a woman who told him of something sounding like a state-sponsored murder:

I never saw her again. Nor the photograph. Nor had anyone seen the body. It was a fantasy. Earnest reporters check this out – in fact, I have been spending at least a third of my working days in Tehran this past week not reporting what might prove to be true but disproving what is clearly untrue.

After getting a phone call in the middle of the night about a reported massacre of students on a university campus, and being informed of photographic evidence of the shooting of a young male student the day before, Fisk found both stories to be total fantasy. Yet that did not stop his newspaper editor calling him to ask about the news he had heard:

There are few provable assurances in the Middle East, often few facts and a lot of lies. Dangers are as thick as snakes in the desert. As I write, I have just received another call from Lebanon. “Mr Fisk, a girl has been shot in Iran. I have a video from the internet. You can see her body…” And you know what? I think he might be right.


Dust jacket of The Great War for Civilisation,...

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Latest on western media misinformation on Iran

The details of stories of vote-rigging in Iran simply lack credibility as evidence that the election result was fraudulent. No doubt there was some fraud on both sides, as there usually is in many western elections (my Australia certainly included), too. But what we are reading now in the media is nothing short of sheer misinformation. Media spin out rumour and unsubstantiated stories or rely on the most blatant propaganda in the form of various government and political party press releases. (Compare my previous post for more details and genuine inside reporting.)

Examples:

  • By Esam Al-Amin, on the overall relative health of Iranian democracy and for a review of the actual facts vs media reports:

A Hard Look at the Numbers: What Actually Happened in the Iranian Elections?

  • Maarten Doude van Troostwijk is a Dutch historian and translator who has observed many elections in the former communist block for the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, writes:

Stolen Election in Iran? An Inside View of Vote Fraud

  • Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Paul Craig Roberts, gives detailed background on what should surely be obvious to any reader who has been looking for sourced evidence for most of the astonishing claims made in the western media:

Iran Falls to US PSYOPS

  • On the stories that more than 100% of the people voted read Iranian reports on their own investigations (and compare with the U.S. response of blatant fraud in the Bush election):

Guardian Council: Over 100% Voted in 50 Cities

  • And for those who like a bit of history, Chris Hedges, who has a weekly column for www.Truthdig.com, is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Hedges, who has reported from more than 50 countries, worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years.

Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away

Not forgetting (how could we?) the neo-con establishment in 2002 of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran.

In other words, if it’s imprudent to bomb them for a little while, work like hell to whiteant them until they restore another one like the shah.

Borg’s and Crossan’s charlatan interpretation of Paul’s command in Romans 13:1-7 (but hey, it’s only for a public audience)

In a recent post I discussed Borg’s and Crossan’s attempt in The First Paul to demonstrate (through a bit of good old fundamentalist style “proof-texting”) that Paul’s gospel was essentially an anti-imperialist polemic. An obvious question to ask — and thanks to Keith for raising it — is how this sits with Romans 13 where Paul issues his well-known command for all readers to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)

In my reply to Keith I had to confess that I am not persuaded that Romans 13:1-7 was original to Paul’s letter (Winsome Munro argues that it is part of a series of interpolations by “the Pastoralist”) but still, I had to check back on what Borg and Crossan say about it.

Here it is. Firstly, they insist that Romans 13:1-7 must not be read in isolation but within the context of Romans 12:14 to 13:10. Fair enough. I’m willing to try that.

But then I discover I’ve been tricked. B and C tell me not only to read the Romans passage in the context of a wider Romans passage, they actually go further, once I start, to tell me to read the Romans passage in the context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, written some decades after Paul’s letter! Reading Romans in the context of Matthew is NOT reading Romans in context!

I am reminded once again of the jig-saw games fundamentalists play with the scriptures to justify any doctrine that happens to be the core tradition of whatever particular church! “Here a little, there a little. . . “, a passage drawn from Isaiah to justify flagrant decontextualizing of texts to create any-which doctrine one chooses.

Here’s how B’s and C’s argument goes:

1. Romans 12:14 tells readers to bless their persecutors, and Matthew 5:44 says much the same.

2. Skip now to Romans 12:21. “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” If we are reading Romans forwards, B & C ask us to read Matthew backward to make the anachronistic parallel work. We are to compare Romans 12:21 with Matthew 5:39, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

What would scholars say about “parallelomania” if any fundies attempted an argument like this!?

3. Then we come to Romans 13:1-7, the passage threatening any reader who disobeys the powers of government with being guilty of rebelling against the decree of God himself! To what is this a parallel in the Sermon on the Mount? Same verse as above, Matthew 5:39. How does that work? By digging out a Greek lexicon and finding meanings to parts of words that can lend support to translating them with a new nuance to do with “violent protest” that you never suspected was there from any traditional translation.

4. B and C find lines in the Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon (“the major Greek lexicon”) that the word for “resist” can be used in reference to a battle where soldiers are commanded to “oppose, withstand”. Their conclusion? “In Matthew 5:39, therefore, it means ‘to resist violently.'”

Only one or two or more problems with that explanation. It runs against the very next sentence in Matthew 5:39 where an example makes it very plain what Jesus meant here. “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other.” Jesus is clearly commanding something more positive than mere “non-violent resistance‘. We know what follows — give more to the one who sues you, go the extra mile for the one who compels you to go one mile. So B and C’s pedantic reliance on selective lines from Liddell and Scott is exposed as a falsehood.

B and C are scholars of the highest rank yet are writing here as charlatans!

Their arguments ring as false as Keller’s in my previous set of posts on his book.

I also checked how else the same word for resist (anti + histemi) is translated in other NT passages. One can consult them: Luke 21:15, Acts 6:10 and 13:8, Galatians 2:11, Ephesians 6:13, 2 Titus 3:8 and 2 Timothy 4:15, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9. Those interested can discover how often the word really does mean “violent resistance”.

5. B and C continue: “If anti + histemi is redolent of (military) violence (vridar: we have just seen this is hardly so from the above examples) anti + tasso is even more so.” (page 119).

The word in question here? “One must be subject . . .” (Romans 13:5).

How on earth can B & C possibly take a word that in context means clearly “subjection to an authority” to be “even more” redolent of “violent resistance”?! The Liddell & Scott lexicon to which they turn includes a meaning like “to set opposite to, range in battle against” — I would suggest from the context that here the emphasis is on soldiers submitting to their commanders’ orders to hold fast against the enemy. Those interested can do their own study of this Greek word in the Crosswalk Lexicon here.

6. The final parallelomania, sorry, “parallel” is the word used by B&C, is when we move on in Romans 13 to verses 8-10 and compare these with, no, not still reading backwards in Matthew, but forwards again this time, back to where we started in verse 44: Love your enemies. But this time, we are given even more parallels — Luke somewhere says the same thing! This (comparing Romans 13:8-10 with Matthew and Luke from decades after Paul) is all to help us understand the context of Romans 13:1-7!

Sure enough, Romans 13:8-10 talks about Loving one’s . . . Sorry, no. Start again. . . .

While Matthew 5:44 talks about loving one’s enemies, Romans 13:1-7 talks about loving one’s neighbours! And this is used as a “parallel” that will help us understand that Romans 13:1-7 is really about the same thing as Matthew saying somewhere that we should turn the other cheek and go the extra mile — Woops, sorry, I mean, this is really about the same thing as Matthew saying we should not “resist violently”! — Even though that Greek word clearly does not mean that most other times it is used in the New Testament. Nor does it mean that in Romans 13:1-7.

7. B and C in this way conclude that Paul in Romans 13:1-7 is “most afraid, not that Christians will be killed but that they will kill” to avoid paying taxes! “It is something that appalls him so much that — in rather a rhetorical panic (vridar: did anyone else detect a panicked tone in Rom 13:1-7??) — he makes some very unwise and unqualified statements with which to ward off that possibility.” (p. 120)

Yet B and C have just spent the last page or two trying to argue from parallels with Matthew and Luke and from selected lines in a Greek lexicon (not from other NT contextual uses of the words) that Paul was meaning exactly what he wrote! So which way do B and C mean us to take his words?

If Borg and Crossan excuse themselves for such shoddy and untenable “exegesis” because their book is for the public and not fellow scholars (few of whom would probably ever read it anyway), then I suggest they are treating their public with contempt.

This is clearly dishonest exegesis of Romans 13:1-7 from scholars of such a calibre that they really have no excuse.

Footnote:

There is a YouTube video of Crossan and Borg discussing atheism. Crossan uses a similar pedantic argument to assert that atheists are really fixated on God. His case? The word “a-theist” contains “theist”, meaning God, so if they are “a-theists” then they are fixated on God! Hoo boy! Maybe his best days are over and we should just be reading his earlier stuff?

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The diverse Jewish religious environment of Paul outmatches the imagination of Borg and Crossan

Following on from this previous post . . . . .

Borg and Crossan (B and C) (The First Paul) attempt to argue that despite Paul’s clear assertions that he sought to preach only “Christ crucified” and that “Jesus is Lord”, that this could not possibly have been true:

[W]e think the notion that Paul’s message was primarily or exclusively about the death of Jesus and not his life is highly unlikely. Indeed, we find it impossible to imagine. As an illustration, imagine a conversation between Paul and someone he sought to convert. Imagine, for example, Paul’s conversation with Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). (p. 126)

Borg and Crossan then portray Lydia as a very capable and intelligent woman (she was a seller of a luxury item) who was a gentile “God seeker”.

Now imagine Paul telling Lydia about Jesus. Imagine, also, that he focuses on “Christ crucified” (and also, of course, on “Jesus Christ is Lord”). One cannot imagine the conversation going very far before Lydia asks, “Well, this Jesus you talk about who was crucified and then raised from the dead, what was he like?” Paul says, “Never mind what he was like — what really matters is that he was the Son of God who was crucified and died for your sins.” Such an answer would have had no meaning for her. It would have been a conversation stopper.

For Paul to have told her about Jesus’s death would have had no meaning unless he also told her about what Jesus was like, about the kind of person he was. What was this person like who got crucified? What did he stand for that led to his execution by the powers that ruled his world and then his resurrection by God? Who was the Jesus who is now Lord? Proclaiming “Christ crucified” could not (and still cannot) exclude talking about what Jesus was like, what he taught, and what he stood for.” (pp.126-127)

It simply does not occur to many bible scholars (Borg and Crossan are not alone) who are, to a large extent, essentially supported  by various Christian communities, to re-examine their historicist assumptions that force them into the position of having to make up imaginary scenarios like the one above to support their arguments. There is simply no evidence that Paul was ever obliged to, or ever did, discuss the pre-crucifixion life and character of an historical Jesus. The evidence that we do have actually speaks against any idea that he did do this. But the assumptions from which Borg and Crossan are working force them to imagine that Paul must necessarily have preached something akin to one of our four narrative gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit now that I once thanked Crossan for helping me appreciate the importance of “historical methodology”. Well, his Historical Jesus did take me a long way forward from where I had been until that time. But boy have I learned so much more since. Mostly what I’ve learned since is not that hard, really. Simply study the historians and classicists of nonbiblical ancient history and literature topics and apply their methods consistently to the biblical topics too. No favourites or disciplines with special rules to make them somehow exceptional cases. (Okay, I had several years studying ancient history as an undergraduate so I guess it’s a bit easier for me than some others. But I’m trying to share on this blog.)

What else could Paul possibly have preached?

Just what he said he preached. Christ crucified, for starters. Why is this a problem for most? Because, I suspect, we start out with assumptions of Jesus’ historicity. The gospel crucifixion scene consists of only the last few chapters of each of the gospels. It is not enough of a narrative on its own. It needs all the earlier bits like the healings, the miracles, the teachings, the crowds and conflicts, to mean anything much. But all of these are generally acknowledged as having been written long after Paul.

All this starts to make more sense when we understand that first century c.e. Judaism was not the rigidly “monotheistic” cult that we associate with later rabbinism and today’s Jews. Whether we follow Margaret Barker and her The Great Angel : a Study of Israel’s Second God (which proposes that Judaism before the fall of the Temple in 70 c.e. contained factions that effectively still retained memories of El, Yawheh, Asherah as distinct yet all divine beings) or James F. McGrath and his The Only True God : Early Christian

Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (which argues that what passed for “monotheism” in the first century was a broader definition than we allow today), one soon learns that Judaism before the fall of the Temple was not the same as what it became in the second century.

Just a few drops to indicate the incredible diversity of Second Temple religious beliefs among Jews, which later rabbinic Judaism attempted to deny:

  1. For some Jews, individuals such as Jacob existed in heaven before they appeared on earth, as we learn from The Prayer of Joseph.
  2. And some wrote of subordinate heavenly beings with names like Yaoel, a contraction of Yahweh and El, as in The Apocalypse of Abraham, a text with remarkable echoes of the Gospel of John.
  3. Some factions also dedicated themselves to the study of “hidden wisdom” and roles of angels, as we learn from apocalyptic texts like the Book of Enoch.
  4. Even the New Testament cannot avoid reference to these narratives of great powers in heaven, including their Enochian source, as we see in Jude.
  5. For others, such practices had to be denounced and expunged, as we see from the survival of the texts that have since become the Jewish Bible and Christianity‘s Old Testament.
  6. I have also discussed in depth Levenson’s exploration of how the Isaac story among some Jews apparently became transformed into a death and resurrection narrative by the Second Temple period.Apocalyptic literarature of Second Temple Judaism
  7. And first century Jewish philosopher Philo also speaks of the Logos as a second god.
  8. Recall also the varied myths of Jacob’s Ladder,
  9. and speculations that changed the original Aramaic meaning of Son of Man in Daniel.
  10. and the “two powers in heaven” “heresy” with Metatron being found in the place of God in heaven according to visionary narratives.
  11. and those strange references in the New Testament and other unorthodox Jewish literature to Melchizedek
  12. and how seriously should we read take the description of a woman in Revelation being clothed with the sun — surely an obvious allusion to her divinity — who bore a child who was not crucified on earth but whisked immediately to heaven?
  13. and the survival of the Ugaritic divinities in various forms in the apocalyptic literature, and Margaret Barker’s discussions of the distinctions between El and Yahweh even in the OT.
  14. and the cosmic-spiritual meanings attributed to astronomical data, including within Mithraism of the same era.
  15. and the Qumran community with texts discussing unorthodox messiahs
  16. and Samaritan traditions, some involving John the Baptist,
  17. and some scholars suggesting a link between Simon the Sorcerer in Acts and Paul, and Damscus traditions
  18. and what do the above suggest about Paul’s reference to “the god of this world” who is responsible for the blindness of mankind and “the rulers of this age” or “the princes of this world“. In what sort of theological framework was he immersed?
  19. and what did he discuss among converts about the meaning of his vision of Jesus, and the times he felt himself taken up to the different levels of heavens, and the meanings of the “marks of Jesus” in his hands, as he also mentions in his letters, and the power of angels from heaven to preach, and what he meant by Christ being revealed “in him”, and being “set forth crucified” before the very eyes of the Galatians?
  20. To answer, these contents of Paul’s letters ought not to be overlooked as embarrassing oddities. We need to seriously consider how Christianity could have been so overwhelmingly dominated by Marcionites and Valentinians in the early second century, and that it was only as that century wore on that current orthodoxy began to gain the upper hand. Recall how the orthodox (Tertullian?) could even say that Paul was “the apostle of the heretics”.

Paul’s letters need to be read against this three dimensional context of Jewish religious speculation and writings, not just through the two dimensional OT and modern Christianity perspective.

Once we leave behind the monochrome Judaism of our OT and begin to enter the far richer and more complex world that was first century c.e. Judaism then Paul’s letters begin to need less creative imagination from Borg and Crossan to explain. Lydia was a capable and articulate woman who may well have been engaged by a theological-cum-philosophical discussion about powers and beings of heaven and what they offered anew for people like her on earth. Or maybe there was much allegorizing, as we find in the first gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Mark, seen by many as reflecting the theology of Paul, allegorizes the crucifixion to indicate the overthrow of the demonic powers of this earth and the opening of the gateway (cross/ecliptic . . .) between heaven and earth, an event privatized for Jesus at his baptism, but made available to believers with the tearing of the veil (representing heaven with its pattern of stars) that had hitherto separated the place of God from the place of humankind. Paul’s cross fits in well with theologies of the overthrow of demonic or “lesser god” powers, and declaring just and saved all who believe in their “oneness with God” through the cross, symbol of giving up all their earthly desires, and symbol of the gateway between heaven and earth.

I suspect Paul taught the sorts of things he wrote about. He discussed why and how circumcision was no longer valid because of the complex meaning — hitherto a mystery, as he says — of the crucifixion of Jesus. He taught about how a new way of relating to God could be based on faith in a crucified Messiah, much as Stoics could teach of a new way of living and relating to the cosmos through the denial of the flesh (see Engberg-Pedersen — will do some posts on his work some time). In both, new communities arose out of such teachings. All of this is lost to modern readers who are fixated on an historical interpretation of a narrative that in its original form was clearly allegorical — see my notes on Gospel of Mark on my vridar.info site.

By no means am I claiming that the above points as presented like this are proof or even linking evidence that Paul did teach something more esoteric than a biographical narrative. I can do no more in this post than point out the religious environment and suggest alternatives. There is certainly no evidence for B’s and C’s imaginative scenario — quite the contrary.

Lydia

A capable, intelligent, “God-seeker” like Lydia was also immersed in this world of theological diversity, and no doubt would have been wrapped in any such discussion. The original narrator of the tale, the author of Acts and Luke, however, was a proto-orthodox Christian opposed to such speculations. For him, the literal interpretation of the narrative of Jesus was destined to replace the heretical speculations the original devotees of Paul clung to.

The crucifixion has no meaning without resurrection?

This is certainly true according to B and C. But if that was really true for Paul then one must remain at least somewhat perplexed by his frequent separate treatment of them – even sometimes discussing the meaning of the crucifixion without any reference to resurrection at all. When Paul does discuss resurrection, it is to affirm life after death and the ongoing Lordship of Jesus. These are not, contra B and C, presented as “answers” to the crucifixion. The death of Jesus has its own salvific value for Paul quite apart from any discussion of a resurrection. But this is another topic if I need to pull out the citations etc to make the point. Later. Enough blogging for one weekend.

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“When Jesus went out with a loud voice” revisited – – – wikipedia footnote

I earlier blogged about the “last shout” of Jesus before he left this world (When Jesus went out with a loud voice . . .) and one reader responded by saying that the shout itself was a miracle that proved the divine power of Jesus, at least to the nearby centurion. The argument is that at the point of final asphyxiation a loud shout would normally be impossible.

I personally think such a “miracle”, if that were the case, is quite anticlimactic in comparison with the sun turning black at the time of a full moon and a bodily resurre

ction, unless, perhaps for a physician. But since then, while reading for another blog post, I came across the following in the Wikipedia entry on Crucifixion:

Justus Lipsius: De cruce, p.

Experiments by Frederick Zugibe have, however, revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death.

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“Christ crucified” — Was Paul’s message really anti-imperialist as Borg and Crossan assert?

In a recent post I mentioned a new publication, The First Paul, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I said it contained some interesting bits, but also some bits that one might suspect are arguably on the dubious side of method and logic. I discussed a positive for my first post, now for a negative.

In the first-century setting of Paul and his hearers, “Christ crucified” had an anti-imperial meaning. Paul’s shorthand summary was not “Jesus died,” not “Jesus was killed,” but “Christ crucified. This meant that Jesus had been crucified by imperial authority . . . . In Paul’s world, a cross was always a Roman cross.

Rome reserved crucifixion for two categories of people: those who challenged imperial rule . . . and chronically defiant slaves . . . The two groups who were crucified had something in common: both rejected Roman imperial domination. Crucifixion . . . carried the message, “Don’t you dare defy imperial authority, or this will happen to you.

To proclaim “Christ crucified” was to signal at once that Jesus was an anti-imperial figure, and that Paul’s gospel was an anti-imperial gospel. The empire killed Jesus. The cross was the imperial “no” to Jesus. But God raised him. The resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus, God’s vindication of Jesus — and thus also God’s “no” to the powers that had killed him. (p. 131-2)

I admit I have much more to read on this topic, including a few books in my personal library like the twelve year old Paul and Empire by Richard Horsley which I am embarrassed to confess I still have only half read. So the argument of this post is restricted solely to the discussion as found in Borg and Crossan’s new popular book.

I have been recently blogging about the ostensibly pre-gospel passages about the crucifixion of Jesus (latest post here), arguing that this foundational event is entitled to be questioned as to its historical status, widespread opinion among biblical scholars notwithstanding. My conclusions differ radically from Borg’s and Crossan’s as cited above. So time to address their claims:

Paul’s shorthand was not “Jesus died” . . . Really?

Yes, “crucified” is the term used in chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Corinthians. But this is scarcely enough to persuade anyone familiar with Paul’s letters as a whole to think that for Paul the central act of the gospel embedded an intrinsically anti-imperialist message. In fact, it seems B’s and C’s claim here is based entirely on two chapters in but one of Paul’s several letters.

1 Corinthians

By the end of the letter it seems Paul decided to tone down this supposedly “anti-imperialistic” rhetoric and let the Jesus followers off the hook by reminding them that they were acting out Jesus’ death only in their ritual meals, not his crucifixion:

11: 26 . . . you do show the Lord’s death till he come.

2 Corinthians

In chapter 5 Paul writes three times that “Jesus died” without a hint of “anti-imperialist” crucifixion.

5:14 . . . if one died for all . . .

5:15a . . . he died for all . . .

5:15b . . . him who died for them . . .

Galatians

1:1 . . . who raised him from the dead . . . [darn it! Paul just missed an excellent opportunity to drive home his anti-imperialist gospel by pronouncing God’s Yes to Jesus and No to Empire: why did he not think to write, “who raised him from the crucifixion!”? What happened to God’s “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the imperial power that crucified him?]

2:20 . . . I am crucified with Christ . . . [Gosh! So Paul deserved those floggings in Acts, and he really was justifiably executed as an anti-imperialist rebel in the end?]

2:21 . . . if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain . . .

3:1 . . . Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you . . . [Why did governor Pliny not pick up on such anti-imperialist sentiment when he asked Trajan how to handle the Christians?]

5:11 . . . if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. . . . [Whoah a minute here! Does Paul really mean that the anti-imperialist message of the cross can be nullified by preaching circumcision??? Yet that is what acceptance of Borg’s and Crossan’s assertion would lead to! Ditto for 6:12.]

5:24 . . . And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. . . . [So drunkenness and fornication are sending anti-imperialistic messages?]

6:12 . . . they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. [See 5:11 above.]

6:14 . . . But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. [This passage simply makes nonsense any attempt to read into the crucifixion an anti-imperialist message.]

Romans

Maybe it was because he was writing a letter to Christians in the imperial centre of empire, but Paul makes but one solitary reference in this letter to Jesus being crucified. But hold on, the fact that he was writing to Rome should not decide the matter in this case, because in the same letter he actually says that Christians are to see themselves as subject to a daily “crucifixion with Christ”. Is he really writing to devotees living in the shadows of the imperial palace to acknowledge that they are “anti-imperialists” by their daily conduct? See 6:6 below:

5:6 . . . Christ died for the ungodly

5:8 . . . Christ died for us

5:10 . . . the death of his Son . . .

6:6 . . . our old man is crucified with him . . .

14: 9 . . . Christ both died, and rose . . .

14:15 . . . for whom Christ died

1 Thessalonians

4:14: . . . Jesus died and rose again . . .

5:9-10 . . . our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us . . .

Philippians

2:8 . . . even the death of the cross

3:10 . . . being made conformable to his death . . .

3:18 . . . enemies of the cross of Christ . . .

If “Christ crucified” were Paul’s shorthand for his gospel in order to stress its anti-imperialistic message, it appears from the above citations that this was a point he did not wish to emphasize very often, and even sometimes a wording he wanted to infuse with an alternative meaning, probably just to throw the secret police off the scent! 🙂

Did Imperial Rome really hold the crucifixion patent at the time of Paul?

The answer to this question depends on our starting assumptions. If we assume before commencing our enquiries that the Jesus story and Paul’s mission as per the Book of Acts are truly based heavily on historical accounts, then the answer will be “Yes”. Paul according to this assumption knew only Roman rule and that only Roman rulers administered crucifixion.

But if we attempt to put ourselves into the minds of first century moderately informed people, then we will know we have to allow for the idea of crucifixion having many provenances. Popular “novels” of the era not uncommonly include a dramatic crucifixion scene as part of the adventurous plot, including:

In the influential philosophical treatise, Timaeus, Plato describes the gateway between the corruptible realm where our earth resides and the incorruptible divine realm as a cross, in reference to where the celestial equator and ecliptic intersect.

Neighbouring peoples such as the Persians and Seleucids had carried out crucifixions. I cannot know if Rome’s neighbours at the time of Paul did, but crucifixion was not unique to Rome. Jews, in particular, would have held a cultural memory of how one of their kings, Alexander Jannaeus, had crucified 800 Pharisees. Josephus records this for us.

Paul speaks of “princes of this world” as crucifying Jesus, suggesting that it was not Rome but some other powers (compare the information we glean from Daniel) responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

A near Jewish contemporary of Paul and Jesus was Philo who also wrote about the crucifixion in ways surprisingly similar to Paul’s usage — allegorically, although not with any hint of anti-imperialist connotations.

Where is Philo?

Philo

So often I see Philo referred to in scholarly studies of biblical matters in order to clarify the intellectual context of the times. Curiously he has been overlooked by B and C. Here is Philo’s paragraph 61 from section XVII of On the Posterity of Cain and his Exile:

(61) Now the soul that subjects itself to bodily compunctions has the beforementioned inhabitants. Acheman, being interpreted, means, my brother, and Jesein means “outside of me,” and Thalmein means, some one in suspense; for it follows of necessity, that the body must be thought akin to the souls that love the body, and that external good things must be exceedingly admired by them, and all the souls which have this kind of disposition depend on dead things, and, like persons who are crucified, are attached to corruptible matter till the day of their death. (62) But the soul that is united to virtue has for its inhabitants those persons who are preeminent for virtue, persons whom the double cavern has received in pairs, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeckah, Leah and Jacob, virtues and those who possess them; Chebron itself keeping the treasure-house of the memorials of knowledge and wisdom, which is more ancient than Janis and the whole land of Egypt, for nature has made the soul more ancient than the body, that is than Egypt, and virtue more ancient than vice, that is than Janis (and the name Janis, being interpreted, means the command of answer), estimating seniority rather by dignity than by length of time.

A discussion of Philo’s allegorical use of the crucifixion image can be found on pages 186-7 of David Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion available on Google Books. If this Jew living under the same Roman imperial power as Paul did not associate “crucifixion” with imperialist or anti-imperialist sentiments, why should we think that Paul was compelled to do so?

Back to Borg’s and Crossan’s context of 2 Corinthians

After noting all these other passages above from the widely accepted genuine Pauline corpus, it is tempting to have a second look at the context of those passages B and C use to argue their case for an anti-imperialist message in the crucifixion.

1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness

If Paul were writing at a time of various seditions and troubles preceding the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion against Rome, how plausible is it, really, to suggest that Jews found an anti-imperialist gospel an offence of some sort? One would think from Josephus’s account of the various anti-Roman movements in the lead-up to the war that such a gospel would have been enthusiastically endorsed by a vast bulk of the Jews.

2:8 . . . [the princes of this world] would not have crucified the Lord of glory [Compare Daniel chapters 10 and 12 which reveal that there are divine or angelic Princes of Persia, Greece and Israel]

I am reminded of the claim of Jesus before Pilate in the Gospel of John 19:10-11

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Paul clearly could not have had anything like the “tradition” that reached the author of the Gospel of John, since Paul speaks explicitly of plural princes of the world crucifying Jesus while the gospel has one human governer under the power of God alone or a single agent of God. More likely Paul had access to a narrative or treatise or group-think that could be traced back to Psalms 2: 2

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed. . .

(The author of the Gospel of Pilate may well have used this verse too when in the surviving opener of the manuscript he appears to have pictured Herod and Pilate sitting together at the judgement of Christ.)

Long time anti-imperialist bias

11 08_6972 John Dominic Crossan

Image by Lynceus via Flickr

Crossan’s earlier work, The Historical Jesus (and its popular format, Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography), was often criticized for letting show his Irish Catholic anti-

British-imperialist heritage. Methinks nothing has changed in that respect, and just as Crossan’s Jesus happened to preach Crossan’s politics, so Crossan’s Paul preaches Crossan’s politics as his gospel! How else to explain such a powerful assertion about a political message underpinning the phrase “Christ crucified” on the basis of so few citations and in defiance of so many more?

Methinks there is a stronger case for a non-historical origin for Paul’s use of the crucifixion image, but that’s another story.

But there’s more (maybe later)

I had intended the above point to have been covered in 6 lines when I started, and to follow up with B’s and C’s use of Acts and pitiful 20th century social analogies to justify their additional claims about the meaning of Paul’s message of both crucifixion and resurrection. But I’ve run out of beer and need to take a break.

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