Daily Archives: 2010-07-30 15:48:34 UTC

The mystical (not historical) “Christ in the flesh”

Between Earth and Heaven
Image by PacoAlcantara via Flickr

Those who argue that Christ was certainly a historical figure on the basis that the NT epistles speak of him as having been “in the flesh” are often overlooking the contexts and real meaning of that descriptor.

Curiously, while we read in the epistles of Christ being “flesh” at some point, we never read of him living and dying on earth. His flesh form is sometimes set in juxtaposition, even if implicitly, to his spirit form. (This point I owe to Doherty in his most recent book, as I do some other points in this post.) God himself throughout the OT is well known to have taken many different forms. In these cases, we see “flesh” used as an expression of a doctrinal and mystical meaning, not primarily as a reference to some fleshly life-cycle.

That is not to say that there are other reasons for arguing that Jesus was historical, but it can be misguided to bring the “flesh” descriptor into the fray.

Firstly, note the difference between “flesh” and “body” in relation to Christ — or to any spirit being in the ancient Mediterranean world. A “corporeal body” can be attributed to Jew and gentile alike to spirit beings. The evidence for this is laid out (largely through Riley’s work, Resurrection Reconsidered) in earlier posts:

Bodily ambiguities

Response 5 to Wright

So leaving bodies behind, we focus on the mystical flesh alone. read more »

Did a Davidic Messiah have to be a descendant of David?

Rabbi Akiba (illustration from the 1568 Mantua...
Image via Wikipedia

No. At least not in the time of Bar Kochba‘s revolt against Rome, 132-136 ce.

That’s if we can trust the later rabbinic evidence that attributed certain beliefs to famous Rabbi Akiba who supported Bar Kochba’s claim to be the messiah.

(The relevance of this discussion to Christian origins lies in the context of arguments that Jesus being said, at various places, to have been of the seed of David or of Davidic descent. For starters, given modern scholarly (archaeological) understanding of the reality of “King David”, and even the “Davidic dynasty”, there was evidently no such thing as a “family of David” existing in Palestine at the time of Jesus, before and later, anyway.)

Bar Kochba’s original name was Simeon ben Kosiba. It was subsequently changed to Bar Kochba, which was Aramaic for “Son of a Star”, an allusion to the prophecy of Numbers 24:17. (This sort of name change based on a pun on the original name in order to fit a biblical prophecy is worth keeping in mind when one compares other apparent puns in names found within the gospels.)

The rabbinic passage is discussing this bible’s reference to the plural “thrones” in heaven, one for the Ancient of Days, and another, presumably, for the Son of Man (Daniel 7:9, 13-14). The passage follows on from references to a biblical contradiction where God is described as an old man (with white hair) in Daniel 7, but as a young black-headed man according to their interpretation of Song of Solomon 5:11.

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were placed, and One that was ancient of days did sit!

— There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba.

Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.

Did he accept [this explanation from him, or did he not accept it?

— Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. (Hagigah, 14a) read more »