2010-07-10

6 sound basic premises of early Jesus Mythicism — & the end of scholarly mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

Mithras slaying bull (my own pic this time!)

Orthodoxy itself is best defined as the victory of the belief that Jesus had actually lived a full human existence over the belief that he was a mystical being or a man from heaven, greater than the angels (see Hebrews 2.1-18).

And the foundation of this victory was the canonization of the Gospels. Paul’s letters, without the Gospels, could give no case against the docetic and gnostic views of Jesus. As Hoffmann remarks, these letters might even be viewed as sharing those views.

(This post presents an outline of another section of R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s introduction to the newly republished Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History, by Maurice Goguel.)

Paul’s language of myth

Hoffmann remarks that Paul’s explanation of the way of salvation is described in mythical language. Note in particular Galatians 4.3-6, 9:

So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the elemental spirits of the universe [archontes tou kosmou]. of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, [to be] born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we [too] might receive the adoption of sons. . . .

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable elemental spirits? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

So in Paul’s view of history, the human race that had long been damned was suddenly liberated from sin by the advent, death and resurrection of Christ, and this Christ “in significant respects resembled the savior gods of Hellenistic religion — especially Mithras.”

So what does Paul’s savior god and lord look like? Here are the descriptors as delineated by Hoffmann:

  • he had no personal biography (or rather the merest of one: “born of a woman under the law”)
  • “the most important events in his sketchless life were his death and resurrection — or rather revelation as a god.” — see, for example, the early Christian hymn quoted in Philippians 2.5-11:
    • he originated as a god
    • temporarily forsook his divinity
    • was born in the likeness of man
    • was killed
    • was restored to full divinity by his Father-god
  • Compare the same story in the “pro-Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl

Paul’s claim is . . . that Jesus was a dying and rising savior God, a “redeemer” given to the Jews in the same way that Mithras had been given to the gentiles. (p.19-20)

Comparing the Mithras beliefs

Mithras believers held that

  • there was a celestial heaven and a world of evil
  • benevolent powers of good would sympathize with their suffering and vindicate them with eternal life in the world to come
  • there was to be a final judgment day when the dead would be raised
  • there would be an end-time conflict in which the present world order would be destroyed and the forces of light would triumph over those of darkness
  • the faithful must undergo a purifying baptism
  • the faithful must also partake of bread and wine as symbolic of the body and blood of the god
  • the “day of the Sun” was sacred
  • the birth of the god was celebrated annually late December

Thus Hoffmann, page 20.

Could Christianity be a Judaic or Jewish-Gnostic recollection of one of these earlier myths? Theorists in the nineteenth century making use of a variety of analogues ranging from pertinent to absurd began to be convinced it could.

“The [6] basic premises were sound”

Hoffmann then claims that the case for the Jesus myth being an outgrowth of these earlier myths was argued with mixed competence, but “the basic premises were sound: stated here with dangerous brevity” . . . I state them here with even more brevity in most cases, hence presumably with even greater danger, from Hoffmann’s pages 20-22:

  1. “The gospels are written later than the letters of Paul, and the letters of Paul are founded on the myth and liturgy of the dying and rising god, Jesus Christ.”
  2. “The gospels can be seen as the simple expansion of this foundation, over time, to provide a mise en scene for the life of the god.”
  3. “This pattern of ‘expansion’ is familiar from the development of myth and hero legends” of the Roman world — those of Horus, Mithras, Dionysus — and is common to “religious myth in general.” One does not see this same pattern in chronicles or historical narratives. These may contain legendary embellishments, but nothing more than that.
  4. The myth theorists saw the two strands of Jesus myth as geographically distinct, and not that one was the outgrowth of the other. One was the Jewish-gnostic view (as per the gospels) of Jesus being an ethical teacher — wisdom and virtue are his trademarks; the other was the Graeco-Roman myth of Jesus as the manifest deity of Paul’s letters and John’s gospel.
  5. “In order to establish the historicity of the gospels, one would need multiple “firsthand” accounts for the purposes of corroboration” — thus Hoffmann. (Anyone who has come across other posts of mine here would know I question this as it appears to be stated here, perhaps with “too much dangerous” brevity — e.g. there are probably thousands of “firsthand” accounts of alien abductions today. . . ) But Hoffmann remarks on the role of source-theory destroying the notion of multiple sources in the case of the gospels, since it is now apparent that Matthew and Luke used Mark as their primary source. And further, where Mark is not their source, as in the birth narratives, “we are quite clearly dealing with unvarnished or lightly coated Greek myth.” And “in the independently composed gospel of John, we are in the neighbourhood of a pure Gnostic mythology which has been only superficially historicized.”
  6. Myth theorists were “often more forthright than their theological opponents” in acknowledging the kind of literature that the gospels in fact were. The gospels were clearly seen as “examples of first-century religious propaganda, created for the purpose of winning allies for the new movement.” Thus John 20:30; 21:25 and Luke 1:3-4. . . . “The only reason for telling the story is to exhort and to persuade . . . not to provide evidence.” The myth as we have it yields “no purely historical data — no information which is not, in the language of biblical studies, “Christological.”” The myth is not about a man who becomes a divinity, but a divinity who becomes human — “the movement is from Christ to Jesus and not Jesus to Christ.”

The end of the mythicist-historicist debate

Then the whole mythicist-historicist Jesus debate, begun with Bruno Bauer in 1839, was

swept aside by a tide of historical scholarship that seemed to supplant its basic tenets with a succession of “quests” for more detailed information about the Jesus of history as he might be reconstructed from the gospels. (p.22)

Why? Hoffmann suggests two causes.

  1. “the erosion of Christian metaphysics (i.e., the failure of the miraculous to provide a sufficient warrant for Christian belief)”
  2. “and the more radical position that Jesus himself was a fabrication of the early church”

The church might (just) have been able to dispense with the miracle worker borne of the matrix of first century beliefs, but it could not under any circumstances do without the ethical teacher who happened also, for whatever reason, to have been associated with the supernatural.

So scholarship launched into the “quest for the historical Jesus”, and there was no room left for the mythical saviour from that time on.


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36 Comments

  • 2010-07-10 02:47:36 UTC - 02:47 | Permalink

    Many of the allusions to a “historical” Jesus in Paul’s letters don’t read like allusions to a “historical” person. They read more like doxologies. No different than the Catholic Church’s Apostle’s Creed, or the anti-Marcionite prologues in John.

    “[B]orn of a woman, born under the law”? Would this be relevant historical information for, say, President Obama? How many people in history are not born from a woman? Would it be relevant historical data to say “…and David Koresh was of the seed of King Arthur according to the flesh” [Rom 1:3]? This reads more like a creedal formula or statement of faith, not an offhand comment about a recently killed preacher.

    These particular doxologies aren’t in Paul’s letters to assert his (recent) historical existence. Rather, as you point out, they’re in there to combat docetism. Because even docetists believed in a “historical” Jesus.

    • 2010-07-10 10:07:08 UTC - 10:07 | Permalink

      Good points. When such passages are pointed to as “proofs” that Jesus was historical I get the sense that we are seeing ad hoc straw-clutching.

      This sort of thing about the texts reinforces my point that sound historical inquiry must always first establish the provenance and nature of the texts it is studying in order to correctly understand how to interpret their contents. And it is certainly not a cop out to seriously consider the possibility of redactions/interpolations given what we know of this practice in ancient times, especially with Christian literature and even more especially with Paul’s writings. That is not to say some of those passages are interpolations — they may not be — but only to say that the question must explore a very wide range of factors — it is naive, simplistic, and ideological bias to glibly assume they can and must mean only one thing.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-10 10:45:23 UTC - 10:45 | Permalink

    The ‘born of a woman’ part comes from Galatians 4, where everything to do with births is allegory.

    ‘Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.’

    Obviously when Paul is talking about being a child of a woman, he is not referring to literal births.

    ‘Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.’

    Of course, McGrath claims Galatians 4 has a straightforward reading that mythicists deny, because the straightforward reading means Jesus was born of a woman, and Galatians 4 is about literal births.

    • 2010-07-10 11:24:08 UTC - 11:24 | Permalink

      Yes, of course. And this is Hoffmann’s point, too. The passage in Galatians is all in mythical language — Paul is expressing a Christian myth.

      James McGrath, presumably, thinks Hoffmann is a crackpot.

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-10 13:09:59 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

    There were two groups.

    Paul opposed the group whose leaders prohibited him from teaching the drinking of blood, first with violence then later, after his ‘conversion’, with rhetoric. If the Christ myth was composed in rhetorical opposition to the goals of the covenant preservation group, Paul’s letters would not contain biographical details about the historical Jesus because Paul’s social contact with members of the group that knew Jesus was entirely hostile.

    Paul could claim cosmic revealed truths about the risen martyr but details of his actual life would not have become known to him due to his adversarial relationship with associates of Jesus.

    It was not until after the destruction of the Temple that the covenant adherent leaning demographic were ‘in the market’ for an alternate to the traditional customs due to the main provider no longer having sufficient operating capital to remain in business. That is when biographical details about the historical Jesus first appeared in the marketing materials of the group that came to be known as ‘Christian’.

    First existed (Christ myth) among the opponents of preserving the traditions pre70AD, then (Christ myth) + (Q) = NT during the massive market upheaval post 70AD. To make more sales. Is it OK to abandon the tradition after it is no longer possible to preserve the tradition? The consumers had to decide. The NT preserves much of the OT tradition, but with Law abandoned, conscience put in its place and eternal life of bliss as a cherry on top. The rabbis did not have a product to bring to market until much, much later. (And it’s boring in comparison.)

    A possible reason that biographical details could have entered the texts late seems enough to cast doubt on the Jesus Myth. If there were two groups in conflict with each other – one teaching the drinking of blood and abandonment of the the covenant via mythology being promoted by Paul, the other prohibiting the drinking of blood and pushing for conservation of the traditional customs and associated with John the Baptist, Jesus, then James the Just- with no friendly contact between the two, that is a possible reason.

    But the main argument against the the Jesus Myth is the feeble attempt in the texts to claim that Paul’s authority to teach the gospel was transmitted to him from Jesus through Peter. Basilides made the same claim. Others claimed that their authority to teach extended to them from a hsitorical Jesus through Thomas or Andrew or Philip or Mary Magdalene, etc. Was there any writer of early Christian texts, no matter how fantastic, who did not claim that their authority was transmitted to them somehow from a real historical Jew who lived in the first century?

    Neil, read my blog, please.
    http://russellonius.blogspot.com/

    • 2010-07-10 22:51:34 UTC - 22:51 | Permalink

      Russell,

      Isn’t your argument somewhat hampered by the fact that only Paul’s account of the conflict is contemporaneous with those conflicts? Paul claims that his authority was transmitted by the risen Christ and as far as I can see, he doesn’t credit anyone else with having any other source of authority. Your hypothesis seems plausible, but the claims of authority transmitted by a historical person may be so much later in time that I’m not sure that it is safe to read them back into the conflicts that Paul describes in his letters.

      • Russell Booth
        2010-07-11 01:01:29 UTC - 01:01 | Permalink

        Paul does not credit anyone other than the risen Christ with having authority to verify correct teaching? What about the so-called pillars, James and Cephas and John?

        In Gal 1 Paul claims to have spent 15 days with Cephas three years into his ministry, also meeting with James the Lord’s brother on that occasion.

        In Gal 2 Paul claims that his authority extended to him through the pillars whom he claims to have met again in Jerusalem after 14 additional years of activity. They extended to him the right hand of fellowship after hearing of and approving his teaching, according to Paul.

        Acts does not disagree with Paul’s claim. The same Jerusalem leaders are depicted as sending a letter and two envoys, Judas and Silas, to Antioch to explain that Paul’s teaching was not in conflict with theirs (Acts 15). The letter prohibited the drinking of blood, which is hard to reconcile with Paul’s teaching.

        If you have pointed out a problem with my argument, I cannot see it. Could you be more specific?

      • rey
        2010-07-11 02:23:50 UTC - 02:23 | Permalink

        “Paul does not credit anyone other than the risen Christ with having authority to verify correct teaching? What about the so-called pillars, James and Cephas and John?”

        Paul does not credit James, Cephas, and John with the ability to verify correct teaching, Russell. Like most ‘orthodox’ apologists you fail to understand what is meant by Galatians 2:2 “And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.” He does not mean that he took his gospel to them to have them verify its correctness. He means he went to teach them the true gospel so they would stop undoing his work. If he couldn’t get them to accept his gospel then he had run in vain in making all the converts he had made because the danger of these guys tricking them into receiving a different ‘gospel’ still remained. He went “and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” to them in an attempt to convert them, and he imputes the decision to do this to a revelation. Why he only went to those of reputation is obvious. Why argue with the Judaizing rabble when you could convert their apostles and thus undermine their whole movement? It would have been running in vain to start from the bottom rather than the top.

      • 2010-07-11 02:57:41 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

        Rey,

        I’m with you. I have often seen apologists claim that Paul went to Jerusalem the second time to make sure that he had not been preaching the wrong message for seventeen years, which would have made his preaching “in vain.” The problem for that reading is that everything else he writes in Galatians indicates that Paul didn’t care what they thought. The only interpretation of Galatians 2:2 that has ever made any sense to me is that Paul was afraid that his work might have been “in vain” because representatives from Jerusalem were going out and screwing up his churches. Paul went to find out whether the apostles in Jerusalem had the message right, not to check his own understanding.

    • rey
      2010-07-11 02:19:21 UTC - 02:19 | Permalink

      “Was there any writer of early Christian texts, no matter how fantastic, who did not claim that their authority was transmitted to them somehow from a real historical Jew who lived in the first century?”

      Paul. That’s kinda the point. Paul claims to have received authority directly from Jesus but doesn’t claim Jesus to be a historical Jew. When he speaks about how he received his authority from Jesus, Paul says that Jesus is not a man. “Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 1:1) He says Jesus is not flesh and blood “I conferred not with flesh and blood.” (Galatians 1:16) All the passages where Paul is made to assert that Jesus was a Jew are interpolations. Romans 1:2-6 is known to be an interpolation. Romans 9:5 “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” is in Romans 9 the whole of which is an obvious interpolation.

      • Steven Carr
        2010-07-11 07:08:06 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

        The Lord was not a man?

        2 Corinthians 3
        Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

        This crucified criminal stayed a man for a while before being deified, we are told.

        The reality is that this ‘crucified criminal’ is never referred to as a crucified criminal in the earliest sources. There is never a defense of his innocence, or an explanation of why somebody crucified was the Messiah.

        The crucifixion was a cosmic drama, not an earthly miscarriage of justice that had to be shown to be a miscarriage of justice.

  • 2010-07-11 02:12:58 UTC - 02:12 | Permalink

    Russell,

    Maybe you have a different translation of Galatians than I do, but it seems to me that Paul is adamant that the apostles in Jerusalem had nothing to contribute to what Paul learned through revelation.

    “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

    “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was”

    “those men added nothing to my message”

    “As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me”

    At best, Paul sees those “pillars” as having authority towards the Jews that is comparable to Paul’s authority towards the gentiles, but I don’t see anything to indicate that Paul’s authority flows through them rather that being derived from the same source. Nor do I see anything to indicate that Paul thought they had authority that came from some historical person rather than through revelation like Paul’s.

  • rey
    2010-07-11 02:27:14 UTC - 02:27 | Permalink

    I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:12)

    Again, this statement clearly says that Jesus is not a man.

  • liza
    2010-07-11 02:58:18 UTC - 02:58 | Permalink

    But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!– Romans 5:15

    • rey
      2010-07-11 12:33:16 UTC - 12:33 | Permalink

      Everything based heavily on twisting the old testament is clear interpolation. Marcion was right on this. Paul is found arguing often that Jesus was not a man. The only time he says Jesus was a man is when his editor (not himself) is twisting the old testament or old testament concepts…abusing the story of Adam and Eve and making Jesus into a new Adam, for example.

      • liza
        2010-07-11 19:50:20 UTC - 19:50 | Permalink

        Thanks for clearing that up! It will make reading Paul’s letters much easier for me. I can rule out anything that contradicts the historicist position by simply declaring that any trace of Paul’s reference to Jesus’ humanity is clearly an interpolation.

        I’m converted. Where do I sign up to become a mythicist?

    • 2010-07-11 21:30:57 UTC - 21:30 | Permalink

      There is no doubt that Paul’s epistles speak of Jesus as “a man” (among other entities). That is not in question. Probably most mythical characters throughout history have been either men or women. See, for example, an attempt of mine to demonstrate the logic of this point in http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/pauls-understanding-of-the-earthly-leprechaun-not-historical-jesus/

      Historicity or otherwise is not reduced to a list of dot point scriptures. One can proof-text almost anything one likes.

      If historicists proof text their point by listing a series of passages, and mythicists counter with their list of passages, we are hardly engaging in a serious inquiry. What is important is to understand contexts above all. As my recent posts posit, Paul’s references to “the man born of a woman” are clearly within a mythical context. Now that’s what is significant and needs addressing at more than just a dictionary definition level.

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-11 04:56:57 UTC - 04:56 | Permalink

    “Like most ‘orthodox’ apologists you fail to understand what is meant by Galatians 2:2 “And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.” He does not mean that he took his gospel to them to have them verify its correctness. He means he went to teach them the true gospel so they would stop undoing his work.”

    If the true gospel came from Jesus, the brother of the Lord, who appointed Peter/Cephas his “Rock”, how could Paul presume to teach the followers and family of Jesus the true gospel that he claimed to hear by supernatural means? Are you assuming that the Jesus Myth is already proven when you make that statement? It is not.

    Are there ‘orthodox apologists’ who claim that Paul made up the blood drinking thing himself and that the people who were actually with the historical Jesus prohibited Paul from teaching it and did not practice it themselves? Sheesh! Who knew? Name some names, please.

    The two groups I mentioned included all “Jews” – those who were in favor of conserving traditional and customary practices handed down from the ancestors and those of the SAME ethnic group who had abandoned those practices. Conversion of ethnically dissimilar peoples by doctrinal appeal is the orthodox position, but that type of conversion cannot account for a significant percentage of growth of a religious movement. So say sociologists of religion and proselytizing faiths who keep good records of their efforts. They figure about 0.1% of conversions are due to doctrinal appeal.

    The idea that Gentiles were not of the same ethnic group as Paul and James and those guys is called the “Christian doctrine of supersessionism” and is not historically plausible without miracles to help it along. Check the etymology of the word ‘gentile’ going back to the first century. (And don’t forget to check “ethnic” also. The NT was written in Greek.)

    Thanks Liza, for Rom 5:15 “the one man, Jesus Christ”. Apparently Paul did think Jesus Christ was a man, at least some of the time. Paul was promoting a myth, but his thinking ANYTHING about authority coming from those who followed or were related to the man Jesus indicates that Paul’s readers knew about the guy. Paul did not revere the pillars – he opposed them – but he recognized that they had authority to verify correct teaching because of their association with a man who actually lived. Otherwise why would he bother with them?

    If Paul was trying to convert the pillars, why did he carry a letter and travel with the envoys back to Antioch to show that he had not been running in vain?

    And why would ‘Judaizers’ insist that anybody be circumcised before being allowed to participate in a blood drinking ritual, blood being prohibited by both the Mosaic and Noahide covenants, and the Jesusalem decree? There were no Judaizers. There were the two groups I mentions earlier.

    Why is Paul depicted as paying for the vow? The Nazirite vow prohibits drinking wine that is not even considered to be blood. It also prohibits touching a corpse, which is exactly what the bread represents, according to Paul. The body and blood of Christ is the anti-Nazirite vow! Why would Paul pay for such a thing?

    And when given a chance to defend himself against the accusation that he was teaching against the customs, why did he create a ruse about being tried over the reality of the resurrection, and get rescued by 470 troops, 70 of them on horseback? Why didn’t he just make a defense of his teaching?

    • 2010-07-11 05:11:26 UTC - 05:11 | Permalink

      Russell,

      I will concede that your stuff doesn’t sound like orthodox apologetics, but it is normally only orthodox apologists who read all of Acts back into Paul’s letters.

    • 2010-07-11 12:44:53 UTC - 12:44 | Permalink

      “If the true gospel came from Jesus, [then] the brother of the Lord, who appointed Peter/Cephas his “Rock”, how could Paul presume to teach the followers and family of Jesus the true gospel that he claimed to hear by supernatural means?” (Russell)

      What makes you think Paul means a literal brother by ‘brother of the Lord’? He seems rather to be being sarcastic. If he meant it, it would be disrespect against the Lord to say that ‘whatever they are’ (speaking of James in part) ‘makes no difference to me.’ Either Paul means ‘brother of the Lord’ is some non-literal way, OR he uses it only sarcastically. He calls James the brother of the Lord but then says James is incapable of adding anything to him. But wouldn’t a real brother be able to provide him information about the Lord that he didn’t yet know? He calls him brother of the Lord but then says whatever he is is unimportant. He calls him brother of the Lord but then says he isn’t what he claims to be, he is only reputed falsely to be such. In other words, ‘brother of the Lord’ is sarcasm.

      “Are there ‘orthodox apologists’ who claim that Paul made up the blood drinking thing himself and that the people who were actually with the historical Jesus prohibited Paul from teaching it and did not practice it themselves?”

      You are obviously wrong in asserting this. 1 Cor 11 is an interpolation, not written by Paul but by his later Catholic or proto-orthodox editor in the 2nd century.

      “If Paul was trying to convert the pillars, why did he carry a letter and travel with the envoys back to Antioch to show that he had not been running in vain?”

      You are making this up. Acts says he carried the letter, but Acts is 2nd century Catholic propaganda. Paul himself, i.e. in Galatians, never mentions carrying a letter back to Antioch.

      “And why would ‘Judaizers’ insist that anybody be circumcised before being allowed to participate in a blood drinking ritual, blood being prohibited by both the Mosaic and Noahide covenants, and the Jesusalem decree?”

      The assumption that the eating mentioned in Galatians has anything to do with the Eucharist is a total fabrication of ignorant ‘orthodox’ commentators. Does the text refer to this as a eucharist? No. It says Peter at first ate with Gentiles but then stopped when certain men came down from James. It is clear that the issue is that Peter initially had no problem with eating non-kosher meat, like Pork, but then when some men came down from James ‘the brother of the Lord’ who scrupled at eating non-kosher food, Peter stopped eating it himself to keep from offending them. This has nothing to do with a eucharist.

      “Why is Paul depicted as paying for the vow? The Nazirite vow prohibits drinking wine that is not even considered to be blood.”

      Again, we are discussing Paul’s actual epistles (even as interpolated as they are) not the 2nd century propaganda that is the book of Acts and has no bearing on the real Paul whatsoever.

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-11 06:36:39 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

    Acts is part of the evidence. If we don’t treat all of the evidence, why bother? A theory that only takes some of the evidence into account is wrong.

    The author of Acts must have thought his treatment of Paul was believable. And Acts must have been written for a purpose.

    The purpose had to do with a schism that took place in the first and succeeding centuries within the Abrahamic tradition.

    The idea that there was a schism within a group and then a few decades later none of the members of one group (Christians) were descended from the group that experienced the schism is not plausible.

    John Chrysostom, late in the fourth century, was concerned that his flock stop attending synagogue. This does not make it seem as if the schism had been completed within a few decades, or that the Christians were composed only of people ethnically dissimilar from the “Jews”.

    John Chrysostom was especially concerned that the women under his charge stop attending synagogues, and if you consider that the conversion rate among mixed-faith marriages is close to 50% it’s not hard to figure out what he was so worried about.

    Intermarriage between faiths is a plausible explanation for the growth of a religious movement. Conversion by doctrinal appeal is not, yet even atheists buy into that explanation. I do not know why.

    • 2010-07-11 07:30:48 UTC - 07:30 | Permalink

      Treating the evidence doesn’t require us to believing every story we read.

    • 2010-07-11 12:49:55 UTC - 12:49 | Permalink

      Paul’s epistles were written before everything else, including the gospels but especially Acts which was clearly written mid-2nd-century. Acts is meaningless to understanding original Christianity. Acts only explains the rise of Catholicism and its opposition to Marcionism, because Acts was written expressly to answer Marcion.

    • 2010-07-11 13:32:54 UTC - 13:32 | Permalink

      I have yet to catch up with yours and others comments, Russell, but to make one comment in passing, the idea that there was a historical schism — that a monolithic christianity branched into Pauline and Petrine branches, or something to that effect — is not a fact but one of a number of possible interpretations of the evidence. The idea of Christianity being born as a monolithic entity out of a single founder and event, and then gradually branching out into multiple sects, is the story we have inherited from the orthodox. It has an obvious political benefit as a tool to justify the authority of the orthodox.

      Some interpret the evidence differently — that it was diversity that eventually amalgamated (not always peacefully!) into a single orthodoxy.

      See 3 reasons and Diverse Jewish religious environment.

      • 2010-07-11 22:44:17 UTC - 22:44 | Permalink

        It’s a case of one assumption leading to another. And since in the West we’re all steeped in Christianity, it’s easy to forget that so many things we “know” about Jesus are based on a stack of unquestioned assumptions.

        On a related note, while reading Thomas Thompson’s The Messiah Myth recently I was struck by his observation that we assume an oral tradition, because we assume there was an historical Jesus. (Yes, I also write and say “an” historian, and I’m not even Canadian or British. No excuse.) At which point I looked up from the book and said, “Wow.”

        I really like reading Thompson, because even if you don’t buy into his stark minimalism, he really makes you question everything you thought you knew. When I first read Mythic Past, I found myself rereading entire chapters — there was so much new information for me (and new perspectives to boot), that I had trouble assimilating it all in one reading.

      • 2010-07-11 23:11:34 UTC - 23:11 | Permalink

        I’m still re-reading Mythic Past. I keep encountering so many things from someone who seems half-way related to the “minimalist” school and I still get confused about some things. I find I understand just a bit more with each re-read of this or that chapter. Attempting to understand the evidence through unorthodox paradigms is still an effort in some respects. And that’s before I’m in a position to know how to ask the right questions, even!

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-12 00:48:30 UTC - 00:48 | Permalink

    >The assumption that the eating mentioned in Galatians has anything to do with the Eucharist is a total fabrication of ignorant ‘orthodox’ commentators. Does the text refer to this as a eucharist? No. It says Peter at first ate with Gentiles but then stopped when certain men came down from James. It is clear that the issue is that Peter initially had no problem with eating non-kosher meat, like Pork, but then when some men came down from James ‘the brother of the Lord’ who scrupled at eating non-kosher food, Peter stopped eating it himself to keep from offending them. This has nothing to do with a eucharist. (rey)

    Does the text refer to eating non-kosher meat like pork? No. You made that up. The fact is that Paul was teaching a ritual meal that he said he got from the risen Lord that is in violation of both the Noahide Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant when he taught the drinking of blood. All the texts agree that Paul taught it, but we cannot trace the elements of Paul’s Eucharist back to the group in Jerusalem or Galilee. They said, don’t do that, when consulted.

    Let’s cut with the ad hominem attacks, OK? I am nothing like ‘orthodox’ or ‘apologetic’. My background is literary criticism. We are talking about characters in a book. They may have existed in history. We can’t be sure, it doesn’t matter that much and trying to prove one way or the other is an exercise in futility given the nature of the sources.

    Paul did lie, despite his protestation to the contrary (which may have been an interpolation, who cares? We deal with the data). (1 Gal 1:20)

    If Peter withdrew from table at the urging of some men with legal scruples, this is consistent with Paul’s directives in 1 Cor 10 (end of chapter, see also 1 Cor 8:13) AND Rom 14:21 regarding how to behave when violating the directive issued in the Jerusalem decree about not eating meat that has been sacrificed to animals. So what’s the problem? So why did Paul call Peter a hypocrite to his face for following a principle that Paul himself espoused in two of his undisputed letters?

    I thought you guys would be my allies but you treat the sources like slippery fish that cannot be held onto, and which multiply miraculously whenever the data doesn’t fit the point you’re trying to prove.

    Paul taught that THEIR guy, the man who was killed for opposing Paul’s group (if we can even call him a man, he may have been only concept. Who cares?), told Paul after he was dead that God wanted everybody to engage in a ritual that was in violation of the two covenants with Yahweh that covered all of mankind.

    Are you saying, rey, that Paul was teaching a body and blood meal signifying a New Covenant, participation in which requires willfully and publicly violating both of the old covenants, but not at Antioch? Why would he not have taught the same thing in Antioch that he taught everywhere else (except in Jerusalem according to the book of Acts)?

    • rey
      2010-07-12 11:30:35 UTC - 11:30 | Permalink

      “Let’s cut with the ad hominem attacks, OK? I am nothing like ‘orthodox’ or ‘apologetic’. My background is literary criticism. We are talking about characters in a book. They may have existed in history. We can’t be sure, it doesn’t matter that much and trying to prove one way or the other is an exercise in futility given the nature of the sources.”

      Then why are you arguing the historicist position? You are the one who argued that we have to accept the historical reality of two groups having existed, one led by Peter and one by Paul. Now it doesn’t matter, they’re just characters in a book who may or may not have ever existed. Interesting.

      “Does the text refer to eating non-kosher meat like pork? No. You made that up.”

      Its the obvious logical understanding of “ate with the Gentiles.” If it was about a eucharist it would be more explicit. Especially since that would literally involve Peter having to start his own church in Antioch. Why doesn’t Paul say that Peter split the church and took all the Jews down the street to a new church? Because the controversy is over kosher food not the eucharist.

      “The fact is that Paul was teaching a ritual meal…”

      Impossible, because, again, Paul would have explicitely mentioned Peter’s splitting the church in two, a thing not mentioned. Peter’s only crime in Paul’s description is “ceasing to eat with the Gentiles” not starting a second church in Antioch. And that he ceased to eat with them means he ate with them at first.

      Galatians 2:12 “For before that certain came from James, [Peter] did eat with the Gentiles…”

      By your theory [i.e. that this is about the eucharist which you say Paul invented] it would have to be that Peter initially went along and partook of this symbolic canabalism, and then only changed his mind when James’ Jewish Gustapo came down to Antioch. That sounds a bit far fetched. Besides, again, to describe some sort of Protest against the eucharist on the grounds that it is Pagan or a violation of the command to not consume blood as “before that certain came from James, [Peter] did eat with the Gentiles” makes no sense. It would much better be described if Paul had written “before that certain came from James, [Peter] did eat the Lord’s flesh and blood, but when they came he condemned this practice due to his having the veil of Moses on his heart” or some such thing.

      “Are you saying, rey, that Paul was teaching a body and blood meal signifying a New Covenant, participation in which requires willfully and publicly violating both of the old covenants, but not at Antioch? Why would he not have taught the same thing in Antioch that he taught everywhere else (except in Jerusalem according to the book of Acts)?”

      I’m saying the eucharist originates long after the death of Paul…in the second century, and was borrowed by the proto-orthodox from Mithraism.

      That there are interpolations is obvious whether you want to admit it or not. For example, Paul describes eating meat in an idols temple in 1st Corinthians 10:21 as eating at “the table of devils.” Yet in 1st Timothy 4:1-3 he says that commanding to “abstain from meats” is one of the “doctrines of devils.”

      Now, obviously, if devils want us to abstain from meats (as is claimed in Timothy) then they would not have meats spread at their tables in their temples (as is claimed in Corinthians). And if devils want us to eat meat that was sacrificed to them (as in Corinthians) then they certainly do not command us to abstain from meats (as in Timothy).

      So, Paul did not write both. One is an interpolation….or both are. This is simple and cannot be denied.

    • rey
      2010-07-12 11:44:54 UTC - 11:44 | Permalink

      “So why did Paul call Peter a hypocrite to his face for following a principle that Paul himself espoused in two of his undisputed letters?”

      There is one obvious reason, and another possibility: Paul is seeking to establish his superiority over Peter, and saying “Peter is a big fat hypocrite” helps him do that, whether Peter’s “hypocrisy” is in fact in line with Paul’s teachings or not.

      Or Romans was not yet written and Paul had not yet come up with his Romans 14 doctrine but ironically borrowed it from Peter’s actions in the Antioch incident which he eventually realized were for more noble purpose than he though they were in his initial temper tantrum.

    • rey
      2010-07-12 11:49:08 UTC - 11:49 | Permalink

      “Paul taught that THEIR guy, the man who was killed for opposing Paul’s group (if we can even call him a man, he may have been only concept. Who cares?), told Paul after he was dead that God wanted everybody to engage in a ritual that was in violation of the two covenants with Yahweh that covered all of mankind.”

      But ‘Paul’ only teaches this in 1 Cor 10-11, where it has the marks of interpolation in my estimation. You could just as well attribute the invention of the eucharist to the authors of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John seems to be attempting to overturn the practice by making Jesus say you must eat his flesh and blood but then interpreting it as meaning you must believe his words (John 6) for John does not have the institution of the supper at his portrayal of the last passover meal. Imputing to Paul what probably started with the synoptic gospel writers and was only imported into Paul later makes little sense to me.

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-12 03:54:47 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

    >”the idea that there was a historical schism — that a monolithic christianity branched into Pauline and Petrine branches, or something to that effect — is not a fact but one of a number of possible interpretations of the evidence.”

    Neil,
    To be clear, my contention is that a schism occurred within Judaism and that Christianity was one lobe of the schism *within Judaism*. The idea that the Judaic schismatic group quickly morphed into a non-Judaic ethnic constituency is not consistent with normal social processes of conversion. (I suggested in 2008 that you should read Rodney Stark, and it seems that you have. Thanks!)

    We inherit an anachronistic retrojecting of the modern meaning of the word ‘Gentile’ (always capitalized) into the fist century from orthodoxy as a means of propping up the idea that “the Jews” rejected their messiah and that it was non-Jews who populated the sect. This is reinforced further by defining “Jews” as ‘those who obey the Law/Torah’.

    There were Jews more than two centuries prior to the death of the alleged Messiah who solicited from Antiochus IV Epiphanes, governor of Syria, permission to alter their customary practices and to introduce Hellenistic reforms at the temple in Jeruslaem. Permission granted > conservative backlash > Hasmonean Dynasty> further Hellenization > fall of Hasmonean Dynasty > rule by a new set of imperialist collaborators; and we next find demand among Jews for a form of Judaic belief that relativizes the Law in 1810. Preposterous!

    Reform Judaism was introduced to the market as a result of the French government, post-revolution, making Jews full citizens. French Jews could respond to their changed condition and some of them responded by no longer feeling bound to the Law.

    What happened to the demand among Jews for a legal waiver for those 2000+ years? How could there NOT have been similar demand at the time the Temple was being rebuilt in grand Hellenic architectural style, whole new cities were built in Palestine bearing names of Roman emperors, and people like Paul were pushing for such relaxation, fully aware of the marketing blunder committed by Jason and Menelaus early in the second century before the Christian Era?

    There must have been such demand during that long interval. And there WAS a Judaic religion that originated in the wake of the Hasmonean dynasty. But the orthodox apologists would have us believe that the origin of Christianity had nothing to do with Jews who demanded relaxation of customary legal requirements. It had only to do with supernatural events that took place in the first century.

    We do not allow supernatural claims when applying rational methodology. Anything that follows the insertion of a miracle into the equation is not to be trusted.

    Herodians were granted full citizenship in the empire, putting them in a situation very similar to post-revolution French Jews! Why didn’t they have demand for a form of their religion that would no longer require them to observe the backward, out-dated customs of the ancestors? My argument is that they did.

    Sure, the Judaic sect that abandoned the covenant split into different groups (allowing in non-ethnically Abrahamic people as well. Marrying outside the group was one way the customs were violated.) But the origin of Christianity does not make any sense as a result of supernatural events, or as growing by methods that cannot explain that growth such as by doctrinal appeal.

    The Pauline, Petrine, Thomasine, etc. groups were all composed of ‘Jews’ (at least at first) who had abandoned legal observance, but who were not willing to throw out the baby (One God, voice of prophets) with the bathwater (Torah).

    On the other side they faced a Greek/Roman culture whose gods and social morality were clearly inferior to their own. They did supplant those inferior morals eventually with their own Yahweh-based world view and by growing a demographic that was not defined by observance of ancient laws, but that did give obeisance to the alleged giver of those laws, by affiliation with his alleged son who had given permission to abandon the Law *after* his alleged resurrection.

    This permission could only have been generated by demand on the part of humans. I do not argue that Christian demographics were monolithic and later schismed into other forms of Christianity. I argue that the idea that met the demand for relaxed law among the “Jews”- the rhetorical response to the claim made by the conservative legalists that one of their guys had risen from the dead -originated within Herodian households.

    • 2010-07-13 00:09:14 UTC - 00:09 | Permalink

      There were Jews more than two centuries prior to the death of the alleged Messiah who solicited from Antiochus IV Epiphanes, governor of Syria, permission to alter their customary practices and to introduce Hellenistic reforms at the temple in Jeruslaem. Permission granted > conservative backlash > Hasmonean Dynasty> further Hellenization > fall of Hasmonean Dynasty > rule by a new set of imperialist collaborators

      I always had suspicions that what eventually became Christianity began with Daniel.

      • 2010-07-13 09:28:03 UTC - 09:28 | Permalink

        Putting together the details various authors (including “mainstream scholars”) bring out about that “other” side of Judaism through the Second Temple period — with its focus on angels, heavenly agents of god (Yahweh-El, Wisdom, divine genealogies, Son of man), visions, ascents to heaven and descents from heaven, prophets, atoning views of Isaac’s blood, — it appears we have a very natural matrix for strands of religious ideas that eventually coalesced as Christianity. I like to think (don’t “know”, of course) that the final catalyst was the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Mosaic system. What else to replace it with other than a heavenly Joshua and Son of man representing the victory of the spiritual Israel over the earthly powers?

  • Russell Booth
    2010-07-13 11:19:09 UTC - 11:19 | Permalink

    >it appears we have a very natural matrix for strands of religious ideas that eventually coalesced as Christianity. (Neil)

    Exactly! But I’ve been wading into the details of who, what, when, why and how? Whoever it was they started marketing their material *before* the Temple fell and it could not have been done by people who might not even have actually been there at the time.

    The angels in the sky stuff does not explain what was actually happening on the ground any more than Nigerian yellow cake explains why the US invaded Iraq. It was a myth created by people in power to rationalize what they were going to anyway regardless of how well their mythology explained their actions.

    Second-in-command under Titus when the Temple was destroyed was Berenice’s ex-husband. Berenice appears in Acts and appears to have been in the in-crowd of what later became Christianity. Don’t know why she divorced her husband, but I do know what kind of circle she ran in.

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