Jesus, constructed from Moses and other OT passages — according to the Gospel of Matthew

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by Neil Godfrey

One of the first books I read when beginning to question my faith was one that struck my eye while scanning the shelves of a local bookshop, John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.

Moses mosaic on display at the Cathedral Basil...

Image via Wikipedia

It introduced me to many issues being addressed by biblical scholars. I have told the story before, but I like it enough to tell it again: I later had the opportunity to thank Spong personally for assisting me on my journey that took me to atheism. (I don’t think I appreciated at the time that he suffered some grief over his own mentor, Michael Goulder, becoming an atheist, too.)

One observation that Spong addressed was the respective thematic treatments of Jesus in each of the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, depicted Jesus as grounded in the Jewish heritage of the Old Testament literature, and especially as a new Moses figure. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, portrayed Jesus as having stronger associations with a Gentile community. None of this suggested to me that Jesus himself had no historical basis, but it did help reinforce the idea that the Gospels were themselves literary constructs that stood apart from any clear link to a historical person.

Here is what Spong wrote about Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as a Moses figure (identified with *), mingled with a few other linkages of Jesus with Jewish scriptures.

Family line back to Abraham

Matthew’s Gospel traces Jesus’ genealogy back to the father of the Jews, Abraham.

The Bethlehem birth story

The Bethlehem birth story was fashioned around the words of the Hebrew prophet Micah (Matt. 2:1-6; Mic. 5:2)

* The escape to Egypt

The escape to Egypt by the holy family fleeing the clutches of Herod relived the Egyptian phase of Hebrew history (Matt. 2.13ff; Gen. 46)

* The slaughter of the innocents

The slaughter of the innocents (Matt. 2:16) retold the story of Moses’ escape at his birth from the wrath of Pharaoh (Exod. 21.1ff)

Rachel weeping for her children

Rachel weeping for her children echoed the exile (Matt. 2.18; Jer. 31:15; Gen. 35:16-20)

* Moses, the one who led the children of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, would inevitably color the account of the new and greater Moses who would lead the world out of the bondage of sin and into the promised land of the Kingdom of God. (p 157)

* Israel’s Red Sea experience

Israel’s Red Sea experience was present in the story of Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3.1ff; Exod. 14.21ff). In both episodes identity was secured first as a nation and second as a messianic figure. Both the national identity of Israel and the personal identity of Jesus as messiah were, however, the by-products of a unique relationship to the Holy God.

The heavenly words heard at baptism

The heavenly words heard at the baptism (Matt. 3:17) echo the words of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1), where the faithful servant, portrayed as the ideal Jew, first walked the earth’s stage.

* The wilderness wanderings and testings

Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, says the history of these people. In the wilderness they tested their vocation, they received the Law at Sinai (Exod. 19ff), and they were fed by their God with heavenly food, called manna (Exod. 16:4ff). The messianic figure, it was widely believed in Jewish circles, must repeat that history; so the period of Jesus’ lie that had been spent in the desert was transformed into forty days of temptation and testing (Matt. 4.1ff). (p. 157)

Here Spong writes as if the author was transforming a historical period of Jesus in the wilderness into an imitation of the biblical narrative. There is no evidence or objective reason to think that the author did truly have a historical event in mind and that he was re-writing this. The simpler assumption would be that the author is crafting the story with the Old Testament themes as his template. Spong believes that “Matthew” was somehow aware of Jesus’ state of mind at this time, or at least that moderns can see through Matthew’s account in such a way as to see the “real psychology” of Jesus. Jesus, he says, was entertaining various approaches to messiahship in his mind, such as being the miraculous feeder of the hungry, accumulating wealth and status, and surrounding himself with the accoutrements of worship by performing miracles.

Various modes of living out the messianic role played in Jesus’ mind. All of them were to be rejected. (p. 157)

* Preaching on the mountaintop

Matthew’s Jesus emerged from the wilderness and went to a mountaintop to teach the crowds the meaning of the New Covenant. This symbol was not missed by Matthew’s readers. Moses had gone to the mountaintop to get the Law, so the new and greater Moses must do likewise.

* The Beatitudes/Ten Commandments

The Mosaic Law began with the short, pithy, easy-to-remember rules we call the Ten Commandments. The New Covenant also began with the short, pithy, easy-to-remember statements that we call the Beatitudes. In both series there were really only nine statements. However, because ten is the number of fingers on both hands, the commandments have always been recorded as being ten in number. (p. 158)

* Feeding the Multitude in the Wilderness

. . . the account of Jesus feeding the multitude in the wilderness (Matt. 14.13-21), yet another reference colored by the memory of Moses.

Spong once again refers to his faith that there is a historical event behind this tale. If there had been something historical, then this tale must have been known to the author of this gospel a very long time indeed after it supposedly happened, for Spong writes:

By the time the narrative was written, whatever the historic event was had been lost and what was left was a highly stylized narrative with obvious eucharistic and liturgical nuances. (p. 158)

This liturgy, Spong asserts, was “historic”:

The historic words of the liturgy of the Last Supper were used. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it (Matt. 14:19).

What Matthew did see and did communicate was the portrait f the one who fed his people in the wilderness just as the Holy God had done long ago. . . . The heavenly banquet, so much a part of the messianic expectation of the Jews, had in these narratives been dramatically acted out. (p. 158)

Spong follows with a discussion of Matthew’s application of the “Son of Man” epithet to Jesus, and then of the way gentiles glorified “the God of Israel” through Jesus, and Peter’s failure to fully grasp the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship.

“There was work yet to be done to create the new Israel.” (p. 160)

* The Transfiguration

Then came the transfiguration, where Peter, James, and John got to see the true nature of Jesus. Moses had been transfigured by his mountaintop experience, and his face had shined so brightly that it had to be covered (Exod. 34:29-35). (p. 160)

Appeals to Jewish Tradition and Jewish Scripture

Spong writes:

At every step along the way Matthew had fashioned his narrative and shaped his story by appeals to the Jewish tradition and to the Jewish Scriptures. (p. 160)

This statement from Spong would come as a complete surprise to anyone who had just read Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth in which he accuses many scholars (especially “American” ones) of failing to appreciate the Jewishness of Jesus. To be exact, though, Spong is addressing the Jewishness of “Matthew” rather than explicitly of Jesus.

Among the Jewish features in Matthew’s account Spong discusses the following:

  1. Matthew divided his work into five books “in a deliberate attempt to model the form of the five books of the Jewish Torah.”
  2. Matthew had Jesus “use the rabbinical device of numbers in his teaching.” — e.g.
    1. 3 temptations (Matt. 4);
    2. 3 examples of righteousness (Matt. 6:1-18);
    3. 3 prohibitions (6:19; 7:6);
    4. 3 injunctions (7:7-20);
    5. 3 healings together (8:1-15);
    6. 3 miracles demonstrating the authority of Jesus (8:23; 9:8);
    7. 3 restorations (9:18-24);
    8. 3 ‘fear nots’ (10:26, 28, 31);
    9. 3 types of persons unworthy of Jesus (10:37, 38);
    10. 3 sayings about little ones (18:6, 10, 14);
    11. 3 questions in the Passion Narrative (22:15-40);
    12. 3 prayers in Gethsemane (26:36-46);
    13. 3 denials of Peter (26:57-75);
    14. 3 questions of Pilate (27:15-26)
      1. 7 woes (23:13)
      2. 7 demons could repossess an exorcised man (12:43-45)
      3. Asked a 70 times 7 fold pardon (18:21-22)
      4. referred to 7 brethren (22:25)
      5. 7 loaves (15:34)
      6. 7 baskets of fragments (15:37)
  3. “But above all Matthew was a Jewish Scripture quoter”
    1. Mary’s virginity fulfilled Isaiah 7:14
    2. The Bethlehem birth fulfilled Micah 5:2
    3. The flight to Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1
    4. John the Baptist — Isaiah 40:3; 2 Kings 1:8; Zech. 13:4
    5. Jesus’ responses to temptations — Deut. 6:16; 8:3
    6. Wilderness setting — Jeremiah 31
    7. In the Sermon on the Mount the refrain was, You have heard that it was said . . . Matt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43
    8. Jesus came to fulfil the law — Matt. 5:17-19; 8:4
    9. Healings fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy — Matt. 8:17; Isaiah 42:1-4
    10. Critics of Jesus were confounded according to Isaiah 6:9-10
    11. Jesus used Daniel’s words: Matt. 13:43; Daniel 12:3
  4. The Passion of Jesus was constructed out of Isaiah 40-55 and Zechariah 9
    1. “Both sources drove the meaning of Jesus’ life and death beyond the boundaries of Israel.”
    2. Also the Psalms gave us
      1. the words on the cross — Ps. 22:1
      2. the casting of lots for the garments — 22:18 (Matt. 27:35)
      3. the derision of the crowd — Ps. 22:7-8; Ps. 109:25 (Matt. 27:39)
      4. the details of the crucifixion — Ps. 22:14ff)
      5. his death between robbers and burial by a rich man were inspired by Isaiah 53:9

(Seen in this context, some of the narrative details that are generally assumed to have been taken from Mark’s Gospel would, rather, appear to be reasonably explained as originating with Matthew. But this is another topic that I will be coming to later.)

Zeal Overwhelms Rationality

[I]n Matthew’s eagerness to fashion his story to his Jewish audience, he violated the meaning of his Hebrew text time after time. The enigmatic text in Isa. 11:1, for instance, that referred to a branch out of Jesse could hardly be used to undergird the fact that Jesus went to live in Nazareth, yet that appears to be the way Matthew used it. . . . The details of the crucifixion and burial were not predicted by Psalm 22 so much as they were deliberately shaped by that psalm. The servant passage of Isaiah, the son of man passages of Ezekiel and Daniel, the triumphant passage from Zechariah, the shepherd and Bethlehem passage from Micah all became vital and valuable tools for understanding and interpreting Jesus in the Jewish context. In each instance Matthew altered the original meanings of these texts to suit his own needs. His zeal overwhelmed his rationality. (p. 164)

A greater than Moses . . .

Thus, explains Spong, Moses, Solomon, the Temple and Jonah became models of the story, also.

If Jews believed Moses had been the greatest religious leader in history, then Jesus must be portrayed as one greater than Moses. This was the guide to the narrating of the Sermon on the Mount.

If Jews believed Solomon had been the wisest man in history, then Jesus’ wisdom needed to be greater than Solomon’s. (Matt. 12:42)

If the Temple was believed to have been the place where God made his divine presence known to mankind, then Jesus had to be portrayed in terms of the Temple. One greater than the Temple had come. (Matt. 12:6)

If Jonah stood in Jewish folklore as one who had died and come to life again through the innards of a fish, then the story of Jesus who entered death and conquered it must be told in terms of Jonah. One greater than Jonah had come. (Matt. 12:41)

Spong’s intent is to demonstrate that Matthew’s gospel cannot be read literally today. Matthew himself was sincere but without the scholarly training available to “historians” or “biographers” today, and he wrote in the way he felt conveyed the meaning of Jesus for him and his audience. I have a different take on this. And the point of my outlining this small portion of Spong’s book is to illustrate the evidence for a Gospel being more creative in its details than true to historical facts. (Spong is by no means a mythicist.)

In a future post I hope to outline Spong’s similar passage on Luke’s Gospel for the sake of comparison.

After that I might come to Mark, and consider whether this fits best before or after Matthew and Luke on the basis of such parameters.

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  • mikelioso
    2010-12-19 05:26:33 UTC - 05:26 | Permalink

    A book we have in common! While I was trying to piece together what Christianity might mean to some one who did not accept the Bible as literal truth i looked into a number of Spong’s books, “Rescuing the Bible…”, was a purchase for me. Sadly for Spong your reaction may be typical. He has never put together a convincing case for being a leftist and worshiping Jesus. His fame I think stems largely from his willingness to confront mainstream (as we call it in the States) Protestantism with scholarly Biblical criticism. His own contributions to religion and scholarship however are minimal. The argument he gives in his book for Paul being gay may appeal to those who would like to think of Paul as being gay, and there is a chance he was, but the evidence Spong uses doesn’t make it likely that this was Paul’s thorn. But Spong is also a guy who thought the world was full of hope during the Kennedy years that were brought crashing down by his assassination and the the rise of Nixon. People who think Kennedy was on his way to making the world a great place pretty much define a mark for me. Ironically Spong has interpreted American politics through the lens of narrative themes (the good king overthrown by the evil king)the same way Matthew did with Jesus.

  • 2010-12-19 06:55:00 UTC - 06:55 | Permalink

    A rather interesting quote from Clement of Alexandria posted by Huller recently. The quote is concerning the passage about the apostle feeding them milk vs meat:

    “If, then, ‘the milk’ is said by the apostle to belong to the babes, and ‘meat’ to be the food of the perfect (τὸ βρῶμα δὲ τῶν τελείων), milk will be understood to be catechetical instruction — the first food, as it were, of the soul. And meat is the mystic contemplation (βρῶμα δὲ ἡ ἐποπτικὴ θεωρία); for this is the flesh and the blood of the Word, that is, the comprehension of the divine power and essence. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is Chrestos (ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος).'” [Clement, Str. 5.10]

    What does Clement mean by calling “mystic contemplation” the “flesh and the blood of the Word”? The first possible meaning to jump out at me is that he is saying the gospel is an allegory for the entertainment of the carnal and once they’re hooked, then you give them the meat of the “mystic contemplation” which is the real “flesh and the blood of the Word,” obviously meaning that Clement didn’t believe Jesus had real flesh, which is the same as to say that Jesus never really lived. Obviously I could be totally misunderstanding what Clement means, especially since he generally seems to want to be misunderstood.

  • rey
    2010-12-19 07:05:49 UTC - 07:05 | Permalink

    “But above all Matthew was a Jewish Scripture quoter”

    Was he? Or was he a Gentile trying to convince us he “was a Jewish Scripture quoter”?

    All of the ‘church fathers’ who mention any Hebrew gospel tend to say that it was the original Matthew, that we have no idea who translated Matthew into Greek, and that the Greek translation doesn’t agree exactly with the Hebrew. There are references to the fact that the Hebrew original didn’t have the virgin birth, as one big example. The Hebrew one also had Jesus speak against sacrifices, which is missing in Greek Matthew. The Hebrew apparently had Jesus’ first appearance after his resurrection be to the high priest’s servant and his second one be to his brother James because it says something like “after he delivered his grave clothes to the high priest’s servant, he appeared to James his brother who had placed himself under an oath saying he would eat nothing until he saw the Son of Man arisen from among those who sleep.”

    So, if “Matthew” is the original author and not the translator, we have no idea what “Matthew” might have done as far as these OT quotations. Probably these are from the Gentile translator who had stripped the text of many of its Jewish Christian elements (like reverence for James and Jesus preaching against sacrifices) and in order to keep himself from being suspected of removing Jewish themes decided to throw in a bunch of Old Testament quotations and prophecy fulfillment claims.

    • rey
      2010-12-19 07:08:30 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

      It would be interesting to know if the Hebrew gospel had Jesus crucified or stoned, since the Talmud has Jesu ha-Notsri stoned not crucified, and since Acts has Peter say “whom you slew AND hanged on a tree” which sounds more like stoning per Deut 13.

      • mikelioso
        2010-12-19 09:08:13 UTC - 09:08 | Permalink

        Rey, I think if it were claimed that Jesus was stoned, the gospels would have picked up on that, given the interest they have in laying his execution at the feet of the Jews. I think “Luke” simply wants to accentuate two important points, the Jews are responsible for Jesus death, and they hung him on a tree, the specific form of the curse from the OT, the same curse Paul invokes. I don’t see any need to speculate on a separate death and subsequent crucification.

        • rey
          2010-12-19 15:49:19 UTC - 15:49 | Permalink

          I think you have it absolutely backwards. The gospels go to great lengths to have the Jews persuade the Romans to do the deed. In one of them (John I think) Pilate even says “you go judge him according to your law” but they refuse and put more pressure on Pilate to do it himself. In this one, then, we clearly have some recognition of the fact that it makes little sense for the Romans to be involved and that the Jews could have done it all on their own, perhaps even a cover up that it was the case. In Acts after all they have no trouble stoning Stephen without Pilate’s help nor of persecuting Christians as far as Damascus. So why in John do they say to Pilate “it is not lawful for us to put a man to death”? The law of Moses certainly allows it, even commands it in Deut 13. They must mean it is not lawful in Rome’s eyes. Yet Pilate had already said to them “you go judge him according to your law” so they had permission. The gospels do deal with the possibility of a stoning, then, in their cryptic way.

          • mikelioso
            2010-12-19 19:28:27 UTC - 19:28 | Permalink

            I think the bit you mentioned from John, John 18:29-31, ” “What charges”..Pilate said, “take him…and judge him by your own law”…”but we have no right”…” are an attempt to distance Pilate from culpability, not to bring him into the process where he did not belong. The idea John seems to give, is that the Jews had lee way for enforcing the law, but had to get capital cases approved by Pilate (except in the case of violating the sanctity of the temple, see Jewish War 6:2:4) It does seem unlikely, when you think about it that the Jews would have been given a blank check to execute who ever they pleased, collaboratetors might be the first to go! Compare Luke 23:6-16 where Pilate releases him to Herod so it is Herod’s men, not Pilate’s that beat and mock Jesus. Pilate does not abuse Jesus but bows under the pressure of the Jews. In Matthew he washes his hands of the affair while the people of Jerusalem greedily claim responsibility. While Mark also has Pilate tricked by the crowed, the innocence of Pilate and guilt of the Jews is much more emphasized in the the later works.

            I don’t see an attempt to hide the guilt of the Jews by framing Pilate, the clear trend tit to distance Pilate. If it were not a wide spread tradition that Pilate was the man who sentenced Jesus to death I think the Gospel writers would much rather drop his involvement. At all stages Pilate’s involvement includes some apologies, that he really didn’t want to. On the other hand each new round of gospels has a much more damning indictment of the Jews. If there were a tradition of the Jews stoning Jesus there is no doubt they would have used that and spared us the hand wringing on Pilate’s part.

            On the issue of Stephen, I can’t be sure how vigilante justice worked in Judea vs. ratting out undesirables to the Romans. Many have said that the reluctance of Pilate is only a fiction of the Gospel and there was probably little need to convince Pilate. Particular so if the reason they were sending him to Pilate was because they thought he was an unstable agitator and not just someone they disliked for theological reason. It is very likely that the Church would emphasis the unjust nature of Jesus execution over any possible legitimate reasons to kill him. As is today in places like India and Pakistan there were likely vigilante cases of religious violence, but also as today, such private feuds could lead to messy government crack downs, so using the state to get rid of enemies was probably the best way to go. To be perfectly frank, I’m not sure how steady the foundations are for the circumstances of Stephen’s demise. And recall from Josephus the killing of James has bad repercussions for the murderer.

            • rey
              2010-12-21 13:17:00 UTC - 13:17 | Permalink

              I don’t see it as an attempt to clear the Jews by putting the blame on Pilate, but rather of giving Jesus’ death a moral universal significance by having him put to death by a universal power and a more well known means of execution. Presumably the Gentiles would be more accustomed to death by crucifixion than by stoning, making it easier for them to identify. And the Jesus vs the Empire rhetoric that results from having the Romans involved is also being eyed here. Not to mention that Roman guards would be more trusted to guard a tomb in Gentile minds, which behooves the authors of the empty tomb stories to have Jesus executed by Rome so that Romans guards can be involved in the tomb scenario. If they had just had him stoned by the Jews and his tomb guarded by Jews, every Gentile would have said “ah, no wonder the body was stolen, look who was guarding the tomb!” But in making him executed by the Romans and the Romans guard the tomb, they remove this saying for the uncritical reader. As I said, one of the major points of my view here is that in Acts the Jews have no trouble stoning whoever they want, so why would they care just a few years earlier?

              • mikelioso
                2010-12-21 13:45:58 UTC - 13:45 | Permalink

                A. The Jews don’t stone who ever they want, there are still Christians in Jerusalem when Paul gets there. If the people who wanted Stephen dead could kill who ever they wanted, why don’t they want more Christians dead? Do they feel sorry for them? My suspicion is blood baths involving whoever would really worry the Romans.
                B. I don’t find your argument that Paul used crucification over stoning as a marketing move compelling, nor that Roman’s were used because Greek would assume non-Roman guards completely incompetent. Paul thinks crucification is stupidness to Greeks and Jews get hung up on it. It doesn’t rule out Paul’s invention of the theme as a hoped selling point, but it sure doesn’t support it.
                I also don’t see the universal significance of Jesus being executed by a minor Roman official vs. a mob assembled by the leaders of the Jewish community. Its not like he is executed on the order of Tiberius or anything.
                Don’t get to caught up in this idea Rey, even wrong ideas advance our knowledge by demonstrating where we don’t need to look! I have had ideas in the past I thought were spot on only to find them dismissed by new information. But I don’t stop pushing, always seek what is really real.

              • maryhelena
                2010-12-21 15:56:45 UTC - 15:56 | Permalink

                Who to put the blame on – the Romans or the Jews, for the gospel crucifixion?

                Well, from a mythicist position ie a position that rejects the claimed historicity for the gospel Jesus figure, there is no reason to read the gospels at face value. They can instead be read as an interpretation of historical events. An interpretation with the purpose of finding some meaning, some ‘salvation’ potential within the often harsh realities of history.

                With regard to the gospel crucifixion storyline, a storyline involving a figure that is crucified with a sign above the cross – king of the Jews – a gospel figure that, in Luke’s account, has been held by both Herod and Pilate – the historical events of 37 bc are relevant: the crucifixion and beheading of the last King of the Jews, Antigonus.

                Wikipedia: “Antigonus II Mattathias was the only anointed King of the Jews (messiah) historically recorded to have been scourged and crucified by the Romans. Cassius Dio’s Roman History records: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a stake and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him.” In his Life of Antony, Plutarch claims that Antony had Antigonus beheaded, “the first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king”.

                The World that shaped the New Testament: Calvin J Roetze
                page 25

                “Herod returned to Jerusalem for the final siege and capture of the city in 37. Antigonus prostrated himself at the feet of Sosius, the Roman general, begging for his life. Rportedly, Sosius laughed and called his abject prisoner “Antigone,” the feminine from of Antigonus. Once in Herod’s custody, the new king passed a double death sentence on Antigonus. He was first crucified, then beheaded.”

                Antigonus survives his crucifixion only to be beheaded. (Josephus has a friend that survived a crucifixion by the Romans). The gospel crucifixion was, likewise, not the end of the gospel Jesus – a storyline that, contrary to the historical Antigonus, results in resurrection and ‘salvation’.

                “So when Sosius had dedicated a crown of gold to God, he marched away from Jerusalem, and carried Antigonus with him in bonds to Antony; but Herod was afraid lest Antigonus should be kept in prison [only] by Antony, and that when he was carried to Rome by him, he might get his cause to be heard by the senate, and might demonstrate, as he was himself of the royal blood, and Herod but a private man, that therefore it belonged to his sons however to have the kingdom, on account of the family they were of, in case he had himself offended the Romans by what he had done. Out of Herod’s fear of this it was that he, by giving Antony a great deal of money, endeavored to persuade him to have Antigonus slain, which if it were once done, he should be free from that fear”. Ant.16.4.

                Once one moves away from the assumption of a historical Jesus to the actual 70 years of Jewish history from 40 bc to 30 ce – parallels with the earlier crucifixion of Antigonus can be observed: Antigonus entered and captured Jerusalem in 40 bc; the gospel Jesus has a triumphantly entry to Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion; Antigonus cuts of the ear of his high priest uncle; likewise, an ear cutting of a servant of high priest prior to the gospel crucifixion. Antigonus ruled for 3 years; Jesus, according to gJohn, has a 3 year ministry prior to the crucifixion. Money changes hands, from Herod to Mark Anthony and from Judas to the chief priests. Antigonus issued bilingual coins, Greek and Hebrew; the gospel crucifixion storyline has the King of the Jews sign on the cross in three languages. Was the history of Antigonus used as a model for the gospel crucifixion storyline?

              • maryhelena
                2010-12-21 16:21:37 UTC - 16:21 | Permalink

                The bilingual coins of Antigonus:
                On one side he used his Herbrew name of Mattatayah: “Mattataya the High Priest and the Council of the Jews”, and on the other side of the coin his Greek name, Antigonou Basileos; “of King Antigonus”.

                …..www.forumancientcoins.com/cat…os=0#Hasmonean [Link no longer works, 14th August 2015, Neil]

                Antioch, where Antigonus was crucified, is the city, according to Acts, where the disciples were first called Christians.

                What these crucifixion parallels with Antigonus could indicate is that the gospel storyline is reflecting Hasmonean history – Hasmonean history that is being viewed as having relevance for early Christian origins. In which case all the secret intrigue re it’s Jesus figure not wanting it to be know re any messianic ideas, would be highly appropriate in view of the Antigonus/Hasmonean history re Herod and Rome. In other words, the gospel undercurrent is not simply Jewish messianic expectations – it is Hasmonean messianic expectations. A much narrower focus…

              • mikelioso
                2010-12-21 19:37:43 UTC - 19:37 | Permalink

                Interesting parallels MaryHelena, why do you think the early Christians were so hot for Antigonus, or do you think they were just raiding his story for details, like how the passion story likely borrowed from Philo( I forget the work, I think it has something to do with a Flaccus)? Antigonus has an interesting biography. It is note worthy that the last true king of Judea was dead less than 100 years before Jesus comes on the scene.
                A couple of things. One, no one records Jesus being beheaded. Two, Mark only has the charge in one language, so is this Antigonus idea still such a heavy influence in later Gospels that they bring in new elements? Do you think those century old bilingual coins had such a big impact on the gospel writers?
                Antigonus rules in Jerusalem 3 years, but Jesus hardly rules Jerusalem, he visits every now in then in John, is there a few days in the others, and in all cases only a few days after entering as a king. I’m having a bit of trouble with the crucification reference, my sources have him tied to a stake and scourged, a different punishment really. It seems he cut off the “ears” of his uncle, under circumstance far different than the scene in the garden. I’m not sure how meaningful most of the parallels are. Particularly the bit about his execution in Antioch, and Luke’s mention of that being the place Christian is coined. The significance eludes me and again, would Luke have this Antigonus stuff going on in his head? He may have been a hot item for Jews, but Luke’s post temple gentile Christians? I am reminded of the the legend circulated about how Lincoln was shot in the Ford theater while Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln car made by Ford. For a more expansive list see
                I think this will show that not much can be placed in parallels, some times it is only coincidence. I try to be cautious when dealling with arguments based on that sort of evidence.

              • maryhelena
                2010-12-21 20:52:37 UTC - 20:52 | Permalink

                Why are there parallels in the gospel crucifixion storyline with Antigonus? Ninety nine dollar question….The parallels that I noted are there. One can of course just ignore them as of no consequence – or one can run with the idea that perhaps they might well be relevant.

                Indeed, the gospel story does not have its Jesus figure beheaded (it uses that element of Antigonus for John the Baptist (who I don’t accept as historical…). After all, there is no ‘rule’ to say that one cannot use elements from a historical event for ‘color’ for various storylines.

                (Neil’s recent post indicates that the gospel writers used the OT story of Elijah as a source for both their John the Baptist storyline and that of Jesus).

                Impact of the Antigonus coins upon the gospel writers? The impact is the whole history of Antigonus as the last Hasmonean King/High Priest of the Jews. Using, or acknowledging, parallels, does not require that everything is exact in the application. How could it be?? Parallels can suggest a link or relevance to a past event – they do not suggest a 100% copy.

                I’m a mythicist that seeks to find historical relevance to the gospel storyline ie that the gospel writers have, like the OT writers before them, been interested in interpreting history for its ‘salvation’ potential. In other words, they look for some meaning, some saving grace, from within the historical realities of their circumstances. It is thus an interpretation of history that we read within the pages of the NT – particularly the 70 years between Antigonus and the 15th year of Tiberius. The gospel Jesus figure is mythological in the sense that that figure is not historical. The history of Antigonus is a very likely candidate for the crucifixion storyboard of the gospel Jesus figure. Other historical elements can of course be relevant for other aspects of the gospel Jesus story.

                Regarding crucifixion:

                Ancient Jewish and Christian perceptions of crucifixion: David W. Chapman
                Pages 8 – 12

                “Latin Terminology

                The English terminology has roots in the Latin verb crucifigo……..to fasten to a crux. A crux was a wooden instrument of execution upon which a person was suspended. Other terms may be used to refer to the victim or to indicate verbally the action of crucifixion. It is common for modern authors to distinguish four shapes of crosses: crux immissa……crux commissa….the Greek cross…and crux decussate or St Andrew’s cross. The cross bar of the crux, a kind of yoke, is sometimes designated a patibulum. Criminals can also be spoken of as being fixed to a pole/stake (palus, sudis) or to a piece of wood (lignum)………
                Thus a variety of words could be used to speak of crucifixion, and even the most technical Latin terms could refer to the suspension of humans in ways only vaguely resembling execution on a crux immissa. This relative flexibility in terminology is all the more obvious in the extant Greek sources……

                Greek Terminology
                Perhaps most importantly, there is often ambiguity in crucifixion and suspension accounts as to whether the person is being suspended before or after death. So, Josephus, while most often utilizing **** to indicate a means of execution, can also say that the Philistines “crucified” the dead bodies of Saul and his sons “to the walls of the city of Bethsan”.

                (the **** indicates Greek in the source)

                An interesting point is that while crucifixion most often leads to death – the placing of dead bodies upon crosses, stakes and poles and labelling such as crucifixions – does suggest that the primary focus of crucifixion was not the death of the victim, in and of itself – it was the public humiliation, the shame and degradation.

  • 2010-12-19 12:44:07 UTC - 12:44 | Permalink

    Here is an idea I have never heard anyone put forward.

    We have no copies of any of the gospels earlier than Irenaeus. We know that Irenaeus was very concerned with controlling texts. We also known that Irenaeus approved of only 4 Gospels. It does not seem impossible that Irenaeus could have edited the three synoptics and John to put them in a final form.Editing them to be consistent with the view of Christianity he was promoting. And editing them in such a way as to address all the dozens of groups he considered heretical. We could be completely mislead that luke and john were written after mark, and they shared a common source… IF Irenaeus, or someone around his time, had all the documents in front of him, and edited them in a fashion that they would all be consistent with views he was promoting. Material from Mark that found it’s way into Matthew and Luke could have been put their by Ireanaeus.

    Again, since we have no texts from before Ireanaeus. And Irenaeus wrote _Against Heresies_ in about 180 which address his anger and differing opinions. And then all of a sudden we have a trail of documents only begining in about 200, it is not unreasonable to accept that we can know nothing about any gospel or Christian traditions from before Irenaeus time when he specifically set out to destroy all opposing views.

    We simply don’t have a single text from before Ireanaus time, we know that he was interested in destroying opposing views, we know he was a powerful leader in the early church, and aligned the Rome which was becoming the political base of Christianity, and we see that all texts we currently have come from after his time. Not a single text from before Ireanaus exists.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    • rey
      2010-12-19 16:24:52 UTC - 16:24 | Permalink

      I’ve never heard anyone put it forward, but I have read it put forward actually.

      David Trobisch, in his book The First Edition of the New Testment, argues that one singular editor (who he doesn’t name) organized the original edition of the New Testament and came up with all the titles to the books and other “editorial features” including perhaps the “we know that his testimony is true” ending to John.

      Stephan Huller on his blog took up Trobisch’s idea but went further, pinpointing either Polycarp or Ireneaus himself as the original editor of that first edition. He also claims to have written a whole book on it which he has never published.

      For my own parts, l think that John 19:23 about the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garment into “four parts” is some sort of a cryptic reference by the final editor to his four gospel canon, and I figure that editor is Ireneaus.

      By the way, in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies doesn’t he more or less admit that he is the editor of the gospels? I mean he doesn’t come out and say it, but he places himself in the position of being judge of variant readings. One particular case is that Ireneaus insists with respect to the passage about Jesus’ mother and brothers being outside that the true text must contain the redundancy of both the narrator and the man in the story saying Jesus’ mother and brother were outside. Apparently the non-Irenaen texts of the time had only the man in the story say “Your mother an brothers are outside” without backup from the narrator, thus allowing for the interpretation that the man was lying to test Jesus, as if he was thinking “a real prophet would know that his mother and brothers aren’t really outside. So lets see if he’s a real prophet.” Irenaeus very likely is the one that added the narrator comment and created the redundancy.

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  • 2010-12-19 04:03:08 UTC - 04:03 | Permalink

    “After that I might come to Mark, and consider whether this fits best before or after Matthew and Luke on the basis of such parameters.”

    Another great post Neil. I did a famous Thread at FRDB here:


    Was Jesus perfect according to “Mark” and “Matthew”?

    Where I demonstrate that “Matthew” converted “Mark’s” near perfect Jesus into a perfect Jesus. Normally you see the reverse literary relationship between the two. “Mark” has the perfected style (chiasm, intercalation, structure, repetition and especially irony) and “Matthew” has screwed up the perfection in editing with the likely explanation that Style was more important to “Mark” than “Matthew”.

    Especially interesting comparing the two is that all of “Mark’s” few claims of prophecy fulfillment have an ironic flavor verses the many claims of prophecy fulfillment of “Matthew” are presented as straight-forward evidence. This follows the NATURAL development of Christianity whereas the earlier “Mark”, following Paul, confesses that Jesus is difficult to find in the Jewish Bible (few and vague) whereas subsequent Christianity “finds” it more and clearer. See here where I show that all of “Mark’s” claimed prophecy fulfillment invokes irony:


    Jewish Bible Prophecy Fulfillment By Jesus According To “Mark”?

    I agree though that the overall Source problem:

    1) No first hand witness of authors

    2) No second hand witness of authors

    3) Known fake authors

    4) Impossible subject matter

    5) Lack of credibility of Paul

    6) Lack of credibility of “Mark”

    7) Lack of credibility of Church

    8) Age

    Open up the possibilities for trajectory. Skeptics who accept the source problems should not claim that a specific trajectory is certain. All you can do is doubt the Christian claims of certainty/probability and maybe say your claim is more likely based on the evidence but not necessarily “likely” all by itself.

    In making conclusions you can not just ignore the source problems because of a lack of evidence. The standards for conclusions are always exactly the same. What would be good evidence compared to what evidence do we have. The solution is not to ignore/deny criteria we do not have evidence for. That is the problem. Supposed criteria such as embarrassment and dissimilarity are all SECONDARY to source issues. How the hell would you know that “Mark” translated from an Aramaic source if you do not know “Mark’s” provenance?


    • 2010-12-19 06:56:54 UTC - 06:56 | Permalink

      Comments on my Jesus Not Being Good Is No Embarrassment raise arguments for a possible trajectory from Matthew’s to Mark’s version.

      Likewise, David Laird Dungan in his chapter in volume 1 of Jesus and Man’s Hope shows that Marcionites were one form of Christianity that did have a motive to contradict teachings about the “goodness” of Jesus. Hippolytus informs us that in Marcion’s view Jesus had to leave behind some of his “goodness” to become a Mediator who was able to point people to the “Good God” (as distinct from the OT Jewish God).

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    • 2011-01-07 23:39:10 UTC - 23:39 | Permalink

      Oh what a child! 🙂 LOL!!! Joel Watts puts a ping back for readers of my post to be directed to his blog post about Lady Wisdom and Folly, but at the same time he does not want anyone reading his blog to be directed here to mine. So how does he do it? He hides the link to my blog in a single comma in his post!

      Ah, such are the ways of the likes of Joel Watts! 🙂

      Now, will he allow this comment to remain pinged-back to his post exposing this childishness?

      I suppose I should be flattered (or maybe not) that one who expresses only contempt for me personally and this blog does appear to secretly drop in to read some of my posts here!

  • 2011-09-10 00:28:59 UTC - 00:28 | Permalink

    I have a post here at FRDB:


    where I explain “Mark’s” “TripType” technique of using a supposed Present Jesus story, having Jesus anecdote a Past parallel from the Jewish Bible, and than have the past parallel foreshadow a Future Jesus’ story. In your great summary here:


    you write:

    Jesus’ disciples are hungry so pluck corn on the Sabbath, an act justified by David unlawfully eating showbread when he was hungry – thus establishing Jesus authority over the Sabbath. (Attempts to explain this by saying it was not unlawful for the disciples to pluck corn on the Sabbath may be correct historically but fail to agree with the story itself. Jesus plainly compares his disciples’ action with one of David’s that he calls ‘unlawful’.)

    [compare to]

    Jesus is hungry but finds no food at all out of season but establishes his authority over the Temple. (The ‘being hungry’ echo is just one of the alerts given us to read these two stories together. Another is the inability of Jesus to find food “out of season” compared with the illegality of his disciples plucking corn on the Sabbath. It is a story about who has authority over the sacred and natural laws on earth. The synagogue has become the Temple and the Sabbath has become “the season” and enemies in both plot to kill Jesus. Jesus heals at first but pronounces judgment at the end.)”

    I believe “Mark’s” main comparison here is to the supposed Eucharist. David/Jesus give consecrated bread to their men. Regarding my main related point of evidence for intentional fiction on the part of “Mark”, note especially that “Mark” CHANGES the Jewish Bible story (that David gave consecrated bread to his men) in order to foreshadow his Future Eucharist story. So it’s mainly the Jewish Bible anecdote which foreshadows the Future Jesus story. The main purpose of the Present Jesus’ story is to invoke the Jewish Bible story. Paul would be proud.


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