2010-01-28

Response (2): the Bethlehem-Nazareth fallacies

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by Neil Godfrey

Coat of Arms of the city of Nazareth

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Continued from Responding to standard arguments for Jesus’ historicity (1)

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(ii) he was from Nazareth

. . . . Not only is the fact that he was from Nazareth a feature of all versions of the stories but Nazareth itself appears, with Jesus being scorned and rejected there. This was clearly a problem for the gospel writers, because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah was going to come from Bethlehem. So the writers of Matthew and Luke both tell stories to “explain” how a man who was known to be and who was depicted as being from Nazareth could actually have been born in Bethlehem. The problem is (i) their stories are riddled with historical problems that show they are inventions and (ii) they don’t just totally contradict each other, they are set ten years apart and are mutually exclusive.

Again, this all makes perfect sense if he did exist and he was from Nazareth. They would need to “explain” how someone from a tiny, insignificant village in Galilee could actually have fulfilled the prophecy about Bethlehem. But it makes no sense at all if he was an invention or myth. If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all? The only logical explanation is that it’s there because that is where he was from.

Coached witnesses are not multiple witness

Also featuring in “all versions of the stories” is the ability of Jesus to produce 12 baskets of food scraps after feeding 5000 with a few fish and loaves; and a resurrected person leaving a tomb. So we can see the relevance of a “fact” appearing in all four gospels. Even though scholars are very aware of at least Matthew and Luke being dependent on Mark as a source, and some also believe John to be derivative from Mark, too, they are not beyond the tendentious assertion that this or that detail is found in “all four witnesses”.

(But there is in fact reason to doubt that Nazareth does appear in all gospels, at least in their original versions. Nazareth is found in only one verse in Mark’s gospel. The Gospel of Matthew copies most of the text of the Gospel of Mark, sometimes adding new material to it. The author of Matthew’s gospel also copied Mark’s scene of Jesus coming to be baptized by John. However, the word “Nazareth” in Mark’s gospel does not appear in the copied verse of Matthew’s gospel. This suggests it was not there in the version of Mark’s gospel that was known to the author of Matthew’s.)

Self-testimony can never be enough

A narrative cannot testify to its own historicity. External controls are always needed. No-one can pick up a story and, without any idea of its context, decide if it is a true tale or not. The mere fact that a story has a coherent plot is no more a verification of its historicity than if it is told less coherently.

To accept as “true” any document or text on the basis of its self-testimony alone, without any reference to external context, is simply naive. Valid historical method does not work that way.

Awkward facts or circular reasoning?

It is said that Nazareth is one element in the gospel narrative that is “clearly awkward for the gospel writers”. I don’t see any awkwardness about its mention at all. It seems no more awkward than the mention of any other place: Capernaum, where Jesus preached; Bethany, where Jesus stayed by night while preaching in Jerusalem by day; Tyre, when he left Galilee altogether at one point. The awkwardness seems to be in the minds of modern readers who seem to be able to read the minds of the ancient authors and psychically see them somehow struggling over how to write about this particular place. Or maybe it is simply a matter of plain old circular reasoning: awkwardness in the narrative is presumed because we “know” in advance it was an awkward matter facing the authors.

I am sure most lay Christians would be surprised to learn that their beloved nativity stories had “problems” with these two places. They are anchors of a beautiful and dramatic simple story told and reenacted every Christmas.

The awkwardness is seen by the apparent “fact” that Nazareth does not fit the Jewish expectation that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem. There is simply no evidence that there ever was such an expectation. Yet there is evidence against.  This “fact” is nothing more than a backward projection by later Christians.

The myth of the general Jewish messianic expectation

In my earlier post I cited discussions in Fitzmyer and Thompson (historians of the Messiah concept at this time) and noted their lack of support for the common assertion that Jews were generally expecting a Messiah at this time, least of all one from Bethlehem. Yes, I have read Horsley’s bandits etc. and the rest. We can cheat a bit and superimpose messianic notions on some of these, but not one has the slightest hint of a whisper about a “general expectation”, let alone a Bethlehem birth.

The narrative contradicts this common assumption

The author of Matthew’s gospel writes a narrative that contradicts the assumption that there was any such Jewish expectation. The wise men were not very wise or knowledgeable at all if they were not aware of what every Jew was supposed to have believed — that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. In Matthew’s narrative they have to go to the royal court to ask the King to consult the wisest of the wise to decipher and deliver this information. Not even the King of the Jews, Herod, knew of it.

And his Jewish attendants didn’t stop to tell him not to bother the priests, because everyone in town knew the answer to that one. Word got around that the magi were looking for a baby messiah and “all Jerusalem was troubled”. They didn’t all flock to Bethlehem, as would have been expected had they all expected that would be the place of the Messiah’s birth.

Herod had to ask his wise men to find the answer. It could hardly, then, be said to have been an expectation in the heart of every Jew.

Matt.2:1-4

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

Of course this has all the ring of a fairy story. But if we are to interpret this as some late development of an historical core, then we are reading how astrologers are unable to learn from general public knowledge about the place of the Messiah’s birth, and how they must resort to a special audience with the king. What’s more, we then read that that King had to shrug his shoulders and say he hadn’t a clue. He had to call in his wise men and pose the question to them.

The so-called prophecy in Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was invented by the author of Matthew’s gospel to fit his narrative. The original passage in Micah 5:2 certainly meant no such thing to its original Jewish audience. It refers, rather, to a clan or individual named Bethlehem, a son of Ephratha. (1 Chron 4:4). It is one of many similar prophecies about a future Davidic king coming from the tribe of Judah (c.f. 1 Sam.17:12).

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So rather than being perplexed over how to reconcile apparent facts with beliefs, the author of Matthew’s gospel actually manufactured the “belief” that was supposed to have caused him so much difficulty!

The gospel of Matthew’s author himself was the one who twisted the meaning of a verse that originally referred to personal or clan names and forced it to mean, instead, the town of Bethlehem. He wanted from the beginning to create a Bethlehem story. He was not “forced into it” so that he then had somehow to struggle to reconcile it with his Nazareth account.

Literary contortions or routine visions and travels?

It is also usually claimed that the authors of Matthew and Luke go to contorted or contrived lengths in their narratives to find ways to get Jesus from a birth in Bethlehem to his hometown in Nazareth. Again, I find such a claim to be without any foundation at all. Both authors use the simple and easy techniques used throughout the Old Testament narratives. It was never a problem for God to get Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or the millions of the tribes of Israel in Sinai from one place to another. Tossing in visions, dreams, sending a plague or curse of some kind in one place, and offering a carrot somewhere else — all these techniques were familiar enough and are repeated routinely in the Matthew and Luke narratives that move Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Awkwardness again? Not at all.

If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all? The only logical explanation is . . . .

My “logical fallacy antennae” start buzzing whenever I hear the phrase “the only logical explanation is that”. ONLY? Is the writer veering towards that logical fallacy of the “false-dilemma”, the “either-or” fallacy?

A wisdom-pearl in Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea reminded me of a host of gossamer arguments regularly touted by fundamentalists (not only Christian or religious fundamentalists, either).

I advise my philosophy students to develop hypersensitivity for rhetorical questions in philosophy. They paper over whatever cracks there are in the arguments. (p. 178)

And “If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all?” is a typical argument by rhetorical question found in the literature about the Bible.

We enter here the fallacy of personal incredulity. The same fallacy is actually called the “divine fallacy” when its logic is used to “prove” God or psychic powers. “How ELSE can you explain X?” “I can see no other possible or reasonable explanation. Therefore, there is no other possible explanation . . . . !”

From the Skeptic’s Dictionary:

The divine fallacy, or the argument from incredulity, is a species of non sequitur reasoning which goes something like this: I can’t figure this out, so God must have done it. Or, This is amazing; therefore, God did it. Or, I can’t think of any other explanation; therefore, God did it. Or, this is just too weird; so, God is behind it.

This fallacy is also a variation of the alien fallacy: I can’t figure this out, so aliens must have done it. Or, This is amazing; therefore, aliens did it. Or, I can’t think of any other explanation; therefore, aliens did it. Or, this is just too weird; so, aliens are behind it.

Another variation of the fallacy goes something like this: I can’t figure this out, so paranormal forces must have done it. Or, This is amazing; therefore, paranormal forces did it. Or, I can’t think of any other explanation; therefore, paranormal forces did it.this is just too weird; so, paranormal forces are behind it.

But really why?

But isn’t the fact that Nazareth is such a nothing-place mentioned at all in connection with Jesus evidence for the historicity of the claim? Why would anyone make it up if it were not an historical reality that the authors were forced to deal with?

Other evidence about Jewish Christian sects and terms related to “Nazarenes” does suggest to modern readers that Matthew’s reference to “Nazarene” indicates that he was creating the story about Nazareth to explain this epithet. Was he attempting to create an alternative (more “proto-orthodox”?) origin for this epithet? Matthew is attempting to tie the word to passage in Isaiah meaning the Branch. Some scholarly discussions of early Jewish sects link the word to a meaning like ‘guardians’ or ‘keepers’. We no longer know its origins, or how it came to be associated with Jesus and some of his early devotees.

Fact 1: No sect is ever named after the hometown of its founder. That is not the way sects or philosophies of any sort are labelled. It is a senseless notion. Yet the Nazarene label was applied to the earliest followers of Jesus, just as Jesus was said to be a Nazarene himself. The fact that the term Nazarene is a sect name is evidence that it does not, and never did in historical fact, relate to a town Nazareth.

Fact 2: There is every reason for an author to invent the idea of a hero hailing from a very modest background. This was/is a very familiar trope found throughout a whole spectrum of mythological tales. Heroes from Sargon to Cinderella have been rejected or cast out or mislaid so that a peasant farmer or villager would bring them up until their day of destiny arrived. It is a common enough trope in the prophetic literature of the Bible, as well as in the narratives of the patriarchs and Kings Saul and David. Sometimes, as with Moses, the theme is reversed, and the one raised in a palace must return to his humble beginnings, only to rise to even greater heights subsequently.

Humble origins and rejection by family and neighbours are both standard tropes in literature. They are used to dramatize the uniqueness of the hero, his special relationship with God, and his heroic longsuffering. It is a trope as old as the stories of Abel, Jacob, Joseph, the prophets, David. These are not historical facts in the Jesus narrative any more than they are historical facts in any of these and other comparable nonbiblical tales. They are standard literary tropes that function to exalt the unique greatness of the hero, and audience sympathy for him or her.

Point 3: As he did with the Bethlehem prophecy, the author of Matthew forces and contorts another Old Testament verse into a “fulfilled prophecy” to explain Jesus hometown of Nazareth. This, along with Fact 1, suggests that the author is attempting to change the meaning of the sect name, Nazarene. He wishes to deny the term (as it was used to apply to the head of the sect, Jesus) its original meaning, perhaps because of theological differences he had with this sect. The fact that in Matthew we read of a contorted invention of a prophecy (as was also done in the case of Bethlehem) suggests that the author is, once again, inventing the idea that the home of Jesus was Nazareth.

It looks to me like the author has created a prophecy to justify his invention of the Bethlehem tale, and then must manufacture another prophecy to justify his denial of the original meaning of “Nazarene” through his invention of Jesus’ home in Nazareth. Once he did it for Bethlehem, it was even easier to repeat the trick for Nazareth. Just like he crafted prophecies out of the Psalms and elsewhere to add more details to the crucifixion at the end. The same reinterpreted use of Old Testament passages was used to portray Jesus as another Moses, another Elijah and Elisha, and as a source of detail with which to construct the Passion Narrative.

(The original context of the summary cited here, by Tim O’Neill, can be found here.)

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  • maryhelena
    2010-01-28 22:26:26 UTC - 22:26 | Permalink

    But who said Herod did not know anything about any messianic ideas, dreams, hopes and OT prophetic interpretations – the virgin birth nativity storyline in the gospel of Matthew? What Herod knew and what the gospel of Matthew infers that he did not know – methinks, must be from some sort of long distance mind reading!

    That the gospel of Matthew wants to place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem – that’s just a gospel storyline – that’s the storyline of the gospel messiah – not necessarily the story of any flesh and blood messiah. That’s just the gospel writers cherry picking something from the OT that could, just might, work for their literary Jesus creation…

    Real world messiahs could, can, come from anywhere – from Cyrus to Vespasian – and any local upstart that thought he could carry the day…

  • 2010-01-29 04:36:32 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

    Loved the “But really why?” header, because that is exactly what was running through my head at that point.

    It still seems curious that Matthew would make up two stories. I find myself wondering why Matthew didn’t say to himself “I *wish* I could include both Jesus origin stories, but it will just be more convincing if I take one out. Which is more important, Bethlehem or explaining away the Nazarene connection?” Not that I really can’t believe there are plausible reasons for him including both though. Your conclusion sounds like a good hypothesis, and I like that it removes the divine fallacy to the standard apologetics. Very interesting article.

  • rey
    2010-01-29 14:22:06 UTC - 14:22 | Permalink

    Since St. Ephrem in his commentary on the Diatessaron quotes Marcion’s version as having the throwing off the cliff in Bethsaida rather than Nazareth, and because our gospels contain geographic confusion (that seems to me to be centered around Bethsaida having been displaced as his hometown) I think that Jesus was originally understood as being from Bethsaida. And somehow we might could make sense of the geographical anomalies on that basis (maybe). Plus the Nazareth association seems to be way of erasing the Nazorean connection by identifying Nazorean with Nazarene via a fake prophecy (Matt 2:23).

  • maryhelena
    2010-01-29 16:16:27 UTC - 16:16 | Permalink

    “Since St. Ephrem in his commentary on the Diatessaron quotes Marcion’s version as having the throwing off the cliff in Bethsaida rather than Nazareth, and because our gospels contain geographic confusion (that seems to me to be centered around Bethsaida having been displaced as his hometown) I think that Jesus was originally understood as being from Bethsaida. And somehow we might could make sense of the geographical anomalies on that basis (maybe). Plus the Nazareth association seems to be way of erasing the Nazorean connection by identifying Nazorean with Nazarene via a fake prophecy (Matt 2:23).”

    Now that is the most interesting thing I have heard in a while – do you have a web-link for the reference re Bethsaida?

    • rey
      2010-01-30 11:33:17 UTC - 11:33 | Permalink

      For the reference to Bethsaida in Ephrem’s commentary Fragments of the commentary of Ephrem Syrus upon the Diatessaron by James Rendel Harris, see page 3. As to the rest I don’t have any web references.

      • Anonymous
        2010-01-30 15:23:59 UTC - 15:23 | Permalink

        Thanks for that – unfortunately, no pages available only able to get the quote re Bethsaida. “…and his visit to Bethsaida (so, according to Marcion, and not to Nazareth)”.

        Perhaps there are footnote in the book to reference where the Marcoin Bethsaida idea comes from – anyone else got any ideas?

  • maryhelena
    2010-01-30 15:25:09 UTC - 15:25 | Permalink

    Sorry about that – ‘ Anonymous’ is me……

    • rey
      2010-01-31 06:47:11 UTC - 06:47 | Permalink

      That’s really all there is, sorry. But if you look at a map, you will see that Nazareth and Capernaum are far away from each other. If Jesus immediately goes from Nazareth (after almost being thrown off the cliff) to Capernaum, he goes a LONG way. But if he goes from Bethsaida to Capernaum, that’s just down the road basically. Plus, Bethsaida being a town right on the sea of Galilee, it would certainly have cliffs dropping into the sea. Does Nazareth really have cliffs? Besides that, there was also a tradition in the first few centuries that Jesus actually was thrown off the cliff and survived. This is found in other writings of Ephrem, in his hymns (as I’ve only read in a review of Baarda’s work on the Diatessaron, see here) and in Augustine’s work Against Faustus the Manichean where Faustus references Jesus actually being thrown down yet not being hurt, and Augustine does not correct him. If the Marcionite understanding was that Jesus actually was thrown off and then sort of flew down to Capernaum (an understanding that Ephrem himself had according to Baarda) then Bethsaida must be the place of the casting off the cliff since Nazareth is too far away to glide down from the cliff to Capernaum. But since Bethsaida and Capernaum are so close, if someone was thrown off a cliff in Bethsaida, if they could fly or glide, they could easily glide down to Capernaum.

      If you’re looking for solid proof that Jesus was from Bethsaida, however, its unlikely to be found. However, consider that Peter is said in the synoptics to be from Capernaum (Jesus enters Peter’s house in Capernaum) but in John we read in John 1:44 “Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” How did Peter get moved from Capernaum to Bethsaida? And who cares that Philip was from Bethsaida? Why mention it here at all? Unless this originally said “Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Jesus” then its mention seems quite superfluous. But it is clear that an interplay between Nazareth and Bethsaida is intended here because we are told that Philip is from Bethsaida, then that Philip says to Nathaniel “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathaniel replies, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” The mention of Philip being from Bethsaida makes more sense if Philip originally said “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Bethsaida.” And Nathaniel said “Can there any good thing come out of Bethsaida?” Thus reproaching both Philip and Jesus. Again, though, all conjecture. Trying to figure out why or how Marcion had Bethsaida instead of Nazareth for the story of the throwing off the cliff may not be practical.

      John 12:20-22 “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: (21) The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. (22) Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.”

      Why must we be told again that Philip is from Bethsaida? I have a conjectrual answer. IF the text originally read “Sir, we would see Jesus of Bethsaida” then naturally once Jesus was moved to Nazareth, the word Bethsaida here would have to be displaced somehow, like attaching it to Philip, “Philip, (which was of Bethsaida).” Again also, we find Philip and Andrew, both of which are affirmed in John 1:44 to be from Bethsaida, being sort of the contacts to Jesus for these Greeks. Perhaps because of their being from the same city as Jesus? Again, pure conjecture.

      • maryhelena
        2010-01-31 22:18:10 UTC - 22:18 | Permalink

        Thanks, rey

        Probably no available evidence re Jesus and Bethsaida – but that Bethsaida plays a big role in the gospel storyline should, methinks, raise a red flag or two…and that Marcoin had a card in this game – well, now…most intriguing…

  • Jer
    2010-01-31 10:03:22 UTC - 10:03 | Permalink

    If the case is going to be made that Matthew was the source for the idea that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, it would at least be interesting to figure out why he thought this was important. (I do agree that Matthew seems to be almost manic about proof-texting prophecies from ancient sources – to the point where he’s just reading random verses and convincing himself that they’re prophecies. I’d say it seems strange, but I’m unfortunately aware that this practice continues today among certain groups of fundamentalist evangelical Christians in the US – almost everything in the OT is some kind of prophecy of the End of Days, no matter how obvious it is that it’s not a prophecy when you read it in its proper context.)

    Anyway, I personally find it interesting that the name Bethlehem etymologically seems to mean something like “House of Bread”. Seems like a fairly important bit of symbolism given how much of the Christian ritual revolves around bread – especially the ritual consumption every week. Linking the birth of the savior figure to the House of Bread screams of symbolism and metaphor to me, not history.

  • mr
    2010-02-01 07:40:52 UTC - 07:40 | Permalink

    off topic question to Neil Godfrey

    if the evangelist who authoured matthews gospel knew of the 500 witnesses, does it not seem reasonable that the authour would squash the stolen body claim by making ref to the 500 witnesses?

  • 2010-02-01 16:50:55 UTC - 16:50 | Permalink

    The standard line is that the Gospellers knew the details of the life of Jesus and fitted the Old Testament to suit that.

    That may be the case for Barnabas fitting 318 servants to the cross, but clearly the Gospellers knew the Old Testament and fitted the life of Jesus to that.

    Unless Jesus really was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, and all Matthew had to do was look up where 30 pieces of silver were mentioned in the OT?

    Even mainstream scholars think the story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem was created by the references found in the Old Testament to Bethlehem by Christians.

    And that Christians did not take the birth place of Jesus and then search the Old Testament until they found the word ‘Bethlehem’

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  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-14 07:42:24 UTC - 07:42 | Permalink

    Neil,
    sometimes you can be brilliant, but this time you are just deeply, deeply disappointing. So you appear to be arguing that the mention of Nazareth in Mark 1:9 is just a later interpolation that was not originally there. And you base your hypothesis on some guesswork that Matthew should also have mentioned Nazareth in Matthew 3:13 if he had originally found it when he copied from Mark 1:9. The only problem with your guesswork is that Matthew appear to have been a lot more logical than you. Why should he keep mentioning Nazareth again in 3:13 when he has already reminded his readers in 2:23 that Joseph and his family settled in Nazareth?

    • 2010-02-14 08:58:09 UTC - 08:58 | Permalink

      Granted my reference to that particular argument was added as a quick “footnote” to something I had written in the main post. And yes, it does deserve a fuller discussion. Will prepare something to develop the point more fully and in a wider context. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-14 22:36:33 UTC - 22:36 | Permalink

    Neil,
    which in some sense make me think much off the effort of the mythicists is in a sense an excercise in cleverness to see how far a little brainpower can get one to knock down the pieces in the gospels one by one. I caught you you on this one, but I am sure that you will come up with something else after massaging your braincells 🙂

    • 2010-02-14 23:19:00 UTC - 23:19 | Permalink

      You caught me catching myself. I oversimplified a point for the sake of an afterthought addition to fill in a gap I had neglected to cover in my original post. (The Nazareth word in Mark is not the issue. That is a detail that requires explanation in the context of a larger argument that rests on something far more substantial than discrete “targets” to be “hit” or such.)

      I did not say it was a dogmatic point or fact — merely that a certain detail is open to question. It makes no difference to me or the larger argument of historicity if Mark used Nazareth himself in his original text or not.

      If my arguments are ad hoc — you are suggesting the “mythicist” arguments are, it seems — then they can be challenged and exposed as such.

      But for the sake of attempting to devise a particular explanation, it does have a place in the discussion. You know, like whether or not X or Y should be included at some point to help us decide if the historical Jesus is a Cynic or a revolutionary or whatever.

      Besides, there is nothing to knock down in the gospels. They are unprovenanced narratives whose content lacks external historicizing testimony. People confuse plot analysis for historical method to establish “historicity” — which is all this “Nazareth-Bethlehem” argument is. Just playing with plot analysis and seeing what bits we can attribute to a certain assumed “source”.

      As for the specifics that you did raise, however, they far from knock anything about. Yep, Matthew had mentioned Nazareth 12 verses earlier, so it certainly might be suggested on that basis that he did not want to repeat the word. But then when we see that he does copy Mark’s “Galilee” here, we would have to wonder why he found it necessary to repeat that geographical reference also — since he had also mentioned that earlier at the time he mentioned Nazareth. Why not just say “Jesus came to be baptized” if he didn’t want to repeat geographic references within 12 verses? To say he did not want to use Nazareth because he had used it 12 verses earlier leaves us wondering why he would use Galilee which he also used earlier with Nazareth.

      But more significant I think is that Mark’s Nazareth reference has no context at all. It is a solitary reference that means nothing in his gospel. It only has meaning in the light of Matthew’s gospel.

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-15 04:22:00 UTC - 04:22 | Permalink

    Neil,
    it´s quite simple. Matthew kept the Markan reference to Galilee in 3:13 because it kept the sense of direction from where Jesus had come to meet John. Maybe he thought mentioning Nazareth also was superfluous. But I am an not into the business of guesswork or reading the mind of an ancient author. What I do know is that there is no reason whatsoever for thinking that Mark 1:9 is an interpolation

    • rey
      2010-02-15 04:48:57 UTC - 04:48 | Permalink

      Mark 1:9 doesn’t have to contain an interpolation: it could contain an overwrite. Note the phrase “Bethsaida of Galilee,” in John 12:21 and the obvious importance of Bethsaida to Jesus throughout John (and even in the others gospels). I find it likely that Mark 1:9 originally said “Bethsaida of Galilee,” and it was changed to “Nazareth of Galilee” more than that Nazareth was interpolated into the same.

      • maryhelena
        2010-02-15 05:46:30 UTC - 05:46 | Permalink

        Now that could be an interesting avenue to investigate…
        What a turn for the books it would be if the real embarrassment was not Nazareth but Bethsaida….

        Bethsaida of Galilee – and Bethsaida in the territory of Philip – two Bethsaidas or just one Bethsaida. More likely just the one Bethsaida, the one in Philip’s territory – a Bethsaida that seems to have given the gospel writers some problems re their storyline. Not only have they tagged on ‘Galilee’ but forgot to mention that the 15th year of Tiberius was a very big year for Bethsaida – that was the year it got renamed to Bethsaida Julias – and not a peep out of those gospel story writers when they had Jesus visiting there and finding some disciples….

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  • mikelioso
    2010-08-11 03:34:26 UTC - 03:34 | Permalink

    Fact 1: No sect is ever named after the hometown of its founder.

    The Cathars were also sometimes referred to as the Albigensians (Albigeois). This name originates from the end of the 12th century, and was used by the chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois in 1181. The name refers to the town of Albi (the ancient Albiga), northeast of Toulouse. The designation is misleading as the movement had no centre and is known to have flourished in several European countries (from Catalonia to the Rhineland and from Italy to Belgium). Use of the name came from the fact that a debate was held in Albi between priests and the Cathars; no conclusion was reached, but from then on it was assumed in France that Cathars were supporters of the “Albigensian doctrine”. However, few inhabitants of Albi were actually Cathars, and the city gladly retained its Catholicism during the crusade. (Indeed, the mammoth cathedral at Albi was built in this period, as something of a show of force against Catharism.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism

    I add this just a curious note. Since the the founder of this sect, whoever he is, may not be from Albi, this sect is also not named after its founders hometown and your fact remains. In fact I doubt the whole Albigensians are named after Albi tale as I can’t find any sect named after a town in Southern France.
    But “of Nazareth” almost seems to be the guys name, like Mary Magdalene.

    “The fact that in Matthew we read of a contorted invention of a prophecy (as was also done in the case of Bethlehem) suggests that the author is, once again, inventing the idea that the home of Jesus was Nazareth.”
    I’m confused, Do you mean Matthew is inventing the idea that the home of Jesus is Nazareth? He would have got that from Mark. I think it is only the prophecy he is inventing and willing to go for a long stretch for it if he intends it to refer to a place. If it is some other title “the Branch” or he is a nazirite like Samson, one wonders why no one knows what it means out side of Matthew’s weird prophecy. No one says Jesus lived in Monte Cristo or anything.

    On the whole the Nazareth as bad Bethlehem as good does seem to be a real issue for the writers and not a fake dilemma. It would really make more sense for the writers to defend themselves from real controversies rather than have debates with fake ones to give the story more depth and fool skeptics from the future.
    Not that that requires that Jesus be from Nazareth. It could have been a location picked out of a hat by G.Mark, caught on with the popularity of his gospel and then had to be modified in the wake of new Christian ideas that the messiah should be from Bethlehem. Paul seems to think Jesus is of the line of David, a point that Mark counters in 12:35 and isn’t mentioned in John, so Christians seemed to have different ideas about what the messiah should be.

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