Monthly Archives: June 2012

23. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 23

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Part II: The Mythicists’ Claims – One: A Problematic Record

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.COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Admitting to problematic Gospels
  • Gospel authors unknown
  • Fallacious analogies:
    • Obama’s birth certificate
    • The Hitler diaries
    • Clinton’s presidency
    • George Washington
  • Discrepancies and contradictions in the Gospels
  • Radically different pictures of Jesus
  • How much of the Gospels is fictional?
  • Form criticism and the argument of Robert Price
  • The criterion of dissimilarity: is it applicable in the Gospels?
  • Doubly strong claims? — multiple attestation and dissimilarity:
    • crucifixion
    • brothers
    • Nazareth
  • P.S. Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist


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Chapter Six: The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

Claim 1: The Gospels Are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 177-190)

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The present chapter will look at the typical arguments used by mythicists that are, in my judgment, weak and/or irrelevant to the question. (DJE? p. 177)

With that, Ehrman embarks on a direct attempt to discredit some of the arguments on which mythicists like myself base their contention that Jesus did not exist.

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Problematic Gospels as Historical Sources

After allowing that the great number of manuscripts of the New Testament documents we possess, as compared to copies of other ancient writings, has nothing to do with whether they are reliable or not, Ehrman makes a pretty heavy set of admissions:

  • we do not have the original texts of the Gospels, and there are places where we do not know what the authors originally said;
  • the Gospels are not authored by the persons named in their titles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but were written by people who were not followers of Jesus but lived forty to sixty years later in different parts of the world;
  • the Gospels are full of discrepancies and contradictions;
  • the Gospels report historical events that can be shown not to have happened.

Moreover,

. . . even though the Gospels are among the best attested books from the ancient world, we are regrettably hindered in knowing what the authors of these books originally wrote. The problem is not that we are lacking manuscripts. We have thousands of manuscripts. The problem is that none of these manuscripts is the original copy produced by the author (this is true for all four Gospels—in fact, for every book of the New Testament). Moreover, most of these manuscripts were made over a thousand years after the original copies, none of them is close to the time of the originals—within, say, ten or twenty years—and all of them contain certifiable mistakes.

But in Ehrman’s view,

 . . . for the question of whether or not Jesus existed, these problems are mostly irrelevant. (DJE? p. 180)

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Inconsistent and contradictory Gospels
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If writers in the early days could play so fast and loose with ‘history’ and sources, with no word or deed of that central character spared revision, what does that say about the stability and reliability, the basic roots, of any supposed traditions these stories are supposedly based upon?

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Well, let’s see. The Gospels do not agree in their wording, or in the inclusion of certain passages in all the extant copies? “So what?” Ehrman asks. It doesn’t matter, for example, if some copies of John are missing the pericope of the woman taken in adultery, this hardly has any bearing on whether Jesus existed or not.

read more »

Bad Five-line Poems for Fun — My Tribute to the Jesus Process

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

Reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is just for fun

You probably already knew that Isaac Asimov loved limericks. I agree with him that by definition a limerick is a poem with five lines, in the metric form: AABBA, and that it must be dirty. OK, they can be simply “naughty,” but the dirtier, the better.

Hence, the following doggerel is nothing special. They aren’t “clean limericks,” since that’s an oxymoron. Nay, simply call them “bad five-line poems.”

Without further ado, here’s my poetic tribute to the towering intellects who blog write essays over at The New Toxonian.

Hoffmann

That genius, R Joseph Hoffman,
Said “Oh, my, here’s a larf, man.
Despite my upbringing,
I’ve stooped to mud-slinging,
And now I can’t turn it off, man.”

read more »

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 3b

The previous post surveyed the range of arguments over whether Paul uses the word “Christ” (χριστός) as a personal name for Jesus or as a title. The answer to the question has implications for Paul’s Christology and theology. (Did he view Jesus as a messianic figure in the traditional Jewish sense or not?) I also suspect the question has implications for the more radical question of Christian origins (Novenson does not address this broader topic, however) and whether or not the earliest concept of the Christian Christ is compatible with an itinerant Galilean teacher and/or healer, or to what extent, the original Christian Christ figure matched contemporary messianic understandings and how best to account for this match/non-match?

Earlier posts in this series examined how Jews of Paul’s era did understand and write about the “messiah”, and we saw Novenson’s conclusion that the concept revolved around a small subset of texts in the Hebrew Scriptures and a limited range of syntactical expressions.

This post concludes an outline of chapter 3 in Novenson’s Christ among the Messiahs, Names, Titles, and Other Possibilities. Having covered the arguments fueling the debate over whether Paul used χριστός as a name or a title, we conclude here with Novenson’s own argument for how Paul understood and used the word.

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Christ as an Honorific

Novenson does find a naming category that he believes is “just right” for the way Paul uses χριστός. The trouble is the particular category has been hidden beneath a range of other widely varying modern concepts: read more »

The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of history”

Ken Humphreys has posted his response to The Jesus Process (C) trio: The New Apologists: R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the “Jesus of History”. . . .

A trio of Jesus myth denouncers from the world of academe have rushed into the breach opened up by the failure of Bart Ehrman’s final solution to the problem of Jesus’ existence (Listen, he was a small-time deluded doom merchant who thought he was king, so there). Professors Hoffmann and Casey, and a young academic who worked for Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, have come to Ehrman’s support with a few dubious arguments in favour of a historical Jesus and a visceral attack on Jesus mythicists as a thoroughly bad crew. . . . .

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 3a

In the previous post we saw how Matthew Novenson in Christ among the Messiahs showed that

there were certain linguistic conventions in Jewish antiquity whereby a speaker or writer could refer meaningfully to the concept of a messiah by alluding to a small but significant group of scriptural texts.

This post looks at the question of discovering what word “messiah” itself meant, or what role a messiah was thought to have, among ancient authors and with special reference to Paul.

One approach to interpretation is to note the frequency with which the word is used. It is significant, says Novenson, that 1 and 2 Maccabees never use messiah language with reference to Judah Maccabee or his brothers, that the Epistle of James uses the word only twice (1:1 and 2:1) and the Gospel of Thomas not at all. Paul’s seven “undisputed” letters contain 270 instances of the word. This total is

more than he uses any other word for Jesus and more than any other ancient Jewish author uses that word. (p. 64)

So was Paul really “the most messianically interested of any ancient Jewish or Christian author”? Did he really mean “messiah” in any traditional Jewish sense or was it mainly a personal name he applied to Jesus?

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The Name-versus-Title Debate

If Paul used the word Christ as a title for Jesus then we may understand Paul as having a messianic Christological view. If he used it only as a personal name, however, then we may conclude that he had no such Christology and the word had no particular or traditional messianic meaning.

Most scholars have come down on the side of the latter argument — that Paul uses Christ as a proper name,

and that consequently the messiahship of Jesus plays little or no role in Paul’s thought . . . It follows, then, that for Paul “the Christian message does not hinge, at least primarily, on the claim that Jesus was or is the Messiah.” In fact, for Paul, “the Messiahship of Jesus is simply not an issue.” (p. 65, quoting MacRae, also Hare, Kramer, Dahl)

A minority of scholars, including N. T. Wright, have taken the contrary view and argued that Paul used the term as a title and that the messiashship of Jesus “lies at the very heart of his theology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.” read more »

Dr. James F. McGrath: Conspiracy Theorist

McGrath’s E-book

Awhile back I bought the Kindle edition of McGrath’s e-book, The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?, hoping to get a review post out of it. Unfortunately, the work is just a tepid rehash of what you’ll find in Bart Ehrman’s (far superior) lectures from The Great Courses (aka The Teaching Company). Dr. McGrath adds nothing especially new or interesting in his assessment of the life and death of Jesus, probably because we’re not in his target audience — Christian believers who are troubled by the Talpiot tomb story.

English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was about to write off the effort as a complete waste of time when I came upon the section header, “Evidence for a Conspiracy?” Now we’re getting somewhere. This could be fun. Perhaps my slogging through page after page of leaden prose wasn’t for nothing. So, what sort of conspiracy is James talking about? He writes:

There is one point at which, if one were inclined to make a case for some sort of conspiracy or cover up in connection with early Christianity, one could do so particularly plausibly. I am referring to the missing ending of Mark’s Gospel. As all recent translations of the Bible point out, our earliest manuscripts end abruptly at Mark 16:8, after the phrase “they did not say anything to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Kindle Locations 1436-1443)

Ugh. Here we go again. As regular readers know, McGrath has a special curiosity about the end of Mark’s Gospel, which drove him to write a paper, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” which was recently reviewed (and corrected) here in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Mark’s “Missing Ending” — Redux

James is much more forthcoming in his e-book than in his paper. When writing for the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) or the Bible and Interpretation web site, he didn’t come out and say he thought an unknown ending once existed but is now missing. He left himself some wiggle room, some “plausible deniability.” But now we’re going to see his true colors:

There have been attempts to treat this ending as the way the Gospel originally ended, and the way the author intended for it to conclude. However, when we consider that copyists of the Gospel of Mark independently added at least two different endings, and that Matthew and Luke both felt the need to complete the story when they used Mark’s Gospel, it seems clear that early readers of Mark’s Gospel found its sudden ending at 16:8 unsatisfactory. Once we realize that it makes little or no sense to tell a story that ends with an assertion that no one was told about the events in the story, it begins to seem far more likely that the original version of Mark’s Gospel must have once continued beyond this point. (Kindle Locations 1442-1446, bold emphasis mine)

An argument from silence

McGrath is pointing out what many readers over the years have noticed. Mark’s Jesus predicts his death and resurrection throughout the gospel. Then when we finally reach the resurrection scene, we find out it has already happened “off stage.” Worse still, instead of treating us to a set of entertaining resurrection stories, Mark informs us that the women told no one and ran away in terror. The End.

James finds this silence displeasing. No, it’s more than displeasing; for him, it’s impossible. He doesn’t simply suspect Mark’s gospel continued after 16:8, he says it “must have once continued beyond this point.” Curiously, when Paul’s silence about Jesus is the focus of our discussion, the main alternatives are (1) Paul chose not to write about the historical Jesus or (2) Paul knew nothing about the historical Jesus. Now we have a viable third option, a McGrathian Conspiracy: Paul wrote about Jesus but it has mysteriously disappeared!

read more »

22. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 22

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A Crucified Messiah

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Jesus and David Koresh
  • Was a crucified criminal believed to be the messiah?
  • Ehrman’s “story” of a resurrection
  • A story missing in Q and the epistles
  • The actual picture in the epistles
  • Did Jews invent a crucified messiah?
  • Did Jews anticipate a suffering messiah?
  • The sources and nature of Paul’s new messiah
  • Ehrman’s summary of his evidence with summary responses

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 164-174)

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Jesus as an ancient David Koresh

At the end of our last instalment, Bart Ehrman told of putting a question to his university students:

What if I told you that David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, attacked and killed some years ago in Texas by the FBI as a dangerous rebel, was really God’s Chosen one, the Lord of all? (DJE? p. 163)

He was making the point that for the followers of Jesus to declare that a man who had just been executed as a rebel was really God’s prophesied messiah would indeed have been equivalent to survivors of the Branch Davidians making a similar declaration of David Koresh today.

Ehrman is now faced with a major challenge. He must answer the question: How could any Jew judge a man who fulfilled none of the expectations the nation held about the messiah, a man whom society would have regarded as a “crucified criminal,” ignominiously despatched by the very overlords he was supposed to overthrow, to be the fulfillment of all those prophecies in scripture about God’s agent for Israel’s salvation?

The traditional Christian answer and Ehrman’s “story” substitute

Ask that question of an evangelical Christian today and you will get a stock answer: the actual resurrection of Jesus convinced his followers that he was God’s Son and Messiah. I suppose if I had been around at that time and saw a dead man walk, I too would have let that override whatever negative reaction I had to seeing him die on the cross. But Ehrman hasn’t allowed himself that option. And yet, he appeals to much the same thing, just a weaker version of it.

If it is hard to imagine Jews inventing the idea of a crucified messiah, where did the idea come from? It came from historical realities. There really was a man Jesus. Some of the things he said and possibly did made some of his followers wonder if he could be the messiah. Eventually they became convinced: he must be the messiah. But then he ran afoul of the authorities, who had him arrested, put on trial, and condemned to execution. He was crucified. This, of course, radically disconfirmed everything his followers had thought and hoped since he obviously was the furthest thing from the messiah. But then something else happened. Some of them began to say that God had intervened and brought him back from the dead. The story caught on, and some (or all—we don’t know) of his closest followers came to think that in fact he had been raised. This reconfirmed in a big way the hopes that had been so severely dashed by his crucifixion. For his reinspirited followers, Jesus truly is the one favored by God. So he is the messiah. But he is a different kind of messiah than anyone expected. God had a different plan from the beginning. He planned to save Israel not by a powerful royal messiah but by a crucified messiah. (DJE? p. 164)

So now instead of an actual resurrection, with followers seeing Jesus again in the flesh and placing their hands upon him to confirm that he was indeed alive, Ehrman posits a “story” of a resurrection which “caught on.” I’m not so sure that I myself, back then, would have been convinced by a ‘story.’ It hasn’t got quite the same force as actually seeing the dead live, right in front of you. Maybe getting a sworn assurance from someone else who actually did see the dead man alive again might have substituted. But a ‘story’? And what did that story say? That he had actually been seen in the flesh? Or that he had been taken up to heaven immediately, leaving no witnesses behind? Was it a resurrection in flesh, or one in spirit? Did the story offer any proof? Ehrman does not say. read more »

Hoffmann’s Ersatz Response to Mythicism

The opening publication of R. Joseph Hoffmann, the leader of “The Jesus Process: A Consultation on the Historical Jesus”, is a curious puzzle of blended words and concepts that have the power to overwhelm his choir with the sense that they are listening to a view so original, unique and erudite that they are bound to think:

Now here is our prophet! I do not understand what he is saying but it is clearly incomprehensibly deep. I must bookmark this and tackle it again another day when I will not feel so intellectually incompetent if I do not understand his every word. Till then, I will highly praise and recommend it to others . . . .

Unless I have misunderstood Hoffmann’s publication (he speaks of his blog post as an “essay” “now published!” along with much terminological pretentiousness such as “Process”, “Consultation”, copyright insignia) he almost entirely avoids the question of whether or not Christianity began with an historical Jesus. That appears not to be his intention at all. For Hoffmann, the historicity of Jesus is a given. Hoffmann describes his essay

as a preface of sorts to a more ambitious project on the myth theory itself and what we can reliably know – if anything — about the historical Jesus.

The question of what we can know about the historical Jesus has been the starting point of all hitherto quests we have seen for the historical Jesus. Necessarily it begins with the assumption that there is indeed an historical Jesus to know about.

Hoffmann sums up the myth theory itself as

largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable bead-string analogies . . . . [guilty of] methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts . . . . [and] almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul.

One has to wonder why any such theory is deserving of any scholarly attention at all or how Hoffmann himself can ever justify his own history of support for the mythicist team.

If the fear is that a misguided public are ignorantly being persuaded by arguments so inept, then why not present a simple and direct point by point exposure of the sham? Hoffmann would respond to this question by declaring that such point by point exposures have been published since 1912 —

  • S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus (Chicago, 1912)
  • F. C. Conybeare, The Historical Christ (London, 1914)
  • Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History (London 1928; rpt. Amherst, 2008)
  • R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (London, 1986)
  • Morton Smith, “The Historical Jesus,” in Jesus in History and Myth, ed. R.J. Hoffman and G.A Larue (Amherst, 1986)

Yet bizarrely the same R. Joseph Hoffmann who writes in his Jesus Process essay that Goguel’s arguments are a “clear refutation” of mythicism, and who in the Introduction in a reprint of Goguel’s book wrote that

Goguel poses real challenges to the theory that Jesus never existed (p. 35)

also wrote on this blog two years ago that Goguel’s arguments were “weak and dated“, that the reprint of his book had “historical interest” but was otherwise “pretty insignificant“, that to demolish his arguments, as Doherty has done, is nothing worth mentioning, and that the myth theory is kept at arms length from academia for reasons other than its intrinsic merits: read more »

21. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 21

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“Key Data” in Proving Jesus’ Historicity – The Crucified Messiah

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • The conflict between messianic expectation and result
  • Assumptions based on the Gospels and Acts
  • Why did Paul persecute the early church?
  • Paul’s gospel vs. Ehrman’s view of early church beliefs
  • Christ as “curse” for being “hanged on a tree”
  • Paul switching horses in mid-stream
  • A new view of Christian origins
  • The traditional Jewish Messiah
  • Jesus as lower class Galilean peasant
  • Who would make up a crucified Messiah?

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The Crucified Messiah

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 156-174)

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A conflict between expectation and history

To introduce his second piece of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure,” (p. 144) Bart Ehrman offers this:

These early Christians from day one believed that Jesus was the messiah. But they knew that he had been crucified. (p. 156)

This is a good example of what happens when one’s thinking is stuck firmly inside the box. The point Ehrman is making is that the concept of the “messiah,” the expectation of what he would be and what he would do, conflicted with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. In other words, historical expectations were at odds with (alleged) historical events. But if that is indeed one’s starting assumption, and if it is wrong, then it will lead us down all sorts of problematic garden paths and into conclusions which are not only erroneous but unnecessary.

The first part of this assumption, entirely based on the Gospels and Acts, is that certain people made judgments about a certain historical man. If that were the case, then an anomaly would certainly exist between traditional ideas about the messiah and what the life of that man actually entailed. Why, then, the question arises, did those people come to such a judgment when it conflicted so much with standard messianic expectation?

But all we have to do is ask: what if no judgment was initially made about any historical man? Everything that follows would then be entirely different, and perhaps more amenable to understanding how Christianity began and showing a conformity to what some of the texts themselves are telling us.

Paul’s persecution of the church

For reasons that may not seem self-evident at first, claiming that Jesus was crucified is a powerful argument that Jesus actually lived. (p. 156)

Ehrman’s route to supporting this statement is a complicated one. He first calls attention to Paul’s persecution of the church in Judea prior to his conversion. He notes that Paul says nothing specific about what the beliefs of that early church were, or on what particular grounds it was subjected to persecution by the authorities, with himself acting as their agent. Nothing daunted, Ehrman steps into that breach. But because he has made the initial assumption that an historical man was interpreted as the messiah, he embarks on a chain of speculation which not only contains problems, but also looks to be completely off the path of reality. read more »

Is the Gospel of Mark Creatively Emulating Philo’s Life of Moses?

Moses Jesus action figures

Did the Jewish philosopher Philo influence the story-line and character-portrayals that we read in the Gospel of Mark? I cannot yet commit myself to believing he did but I am keen to follow up the question since encountering it in Reimagining Christian Origins: A Colloquium Honoring Burton L. Mack. (Mack, of course, is famous for his works on Christian origins and particularly on the Gospel of Mark.) Specifically it was in chapter 11, “The Son of Timaeus: Blindness, Sight, Ascent, Vision in Mark” by Earle Hilgert. He writes on page 187:

Particularly in the thought of Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E. to c. 50 C.E.) the myth of ascent vision combines with the epic figures of Israel’s history, who are seen as models of this experience. As models, they are to be imitated; thus their stories become stories of the psyche, paradigms of the possibilities available to the individual. Mack has pointed out a striking formal parallel between Philo’s De Vita Mosis and the Gospel of Mark.

The work by Mack cited here is “Imitatio Mosis: Patterns of Cosmology and Soteriology in the Hellenistic Synagogue,” Studia Philonica, 1 (1972): 34. Since I do not have access to this article I decided to refresh my memory of Philo’s Life of Moses and compare with the Gospel of Mark myself. But Earle Hilgert does give us a head start when he lists the main points of apparent contact between the two works according to Mack:

Life of Moses 1 Gospel of Mark
The call-vision of Moses at the burning bush (1.65-70) The call vision of Jesus at his baptism
The secret announcement to the elders of Israel of an impending departure to a better land (1.86) Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom
The legitimization of Moses’ authority through miracles (1.91-139) Jesus’ miracles
Moses’ ascent and admission to the presence of God on Sinai — a model for all who are willing to copy (1.158) Jesus’ transfiguration
The journey through wilderness with its trials (1.164, 171, 183) The journey to Jerusalem
Moses’ ascent to heaven at his death (2.288-91) melded with his ascent to the divine presence at Sinai Jesus’ paradigmatic death

That’s Burton Mack and Earle Hilgert. My own reflections follow. The purpose of the following is not to argue dogmatically a particular point. It is to invite anyone interested into a consideration of another way of thinking about an old question, and that need not be limited to a direct cause and effect option.

read more »

Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (6)

William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret

Part 6: “The Self-Concealment of the Messiah” — Demons (cont’d)

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

Image via Wikipedia — Legion exiting the Gadarene demoniac

This unit continues Part 1, Section 2 (p. 24) of Wrede’s The Messianic Secret.

Revealing and Concealing

As we have seen, Wrede agreed with the critics of his day that Mark’s Jesus seems to be intent on keeping it a secret that he’s the messiah. Yet, right next to the commands to silence we find testimony to the fact that Jesus’ fame spread far and wide.

And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more zealously they proclaimed it; (Mark 7:36, KJV)

Similarly, the disciples seem to alternate from ignorance to knowledge and back again. Wrede’s concern is to discover where this motif comes from. Is it purely a literary convention, or is it historical? If it is a literary motif, was it present in his sources or is it a Markan invention?

By examining the various manifestations of the Messianic Secret, perhaps we can discover its roots and significance. Ultimately, thought Wrede, such knowledge may help us reveal authentic traditions of the historical Jesus.

Exorcism and the Messianic Secret

The exorcism stories in Mark provide two distinct aspects of the Messianic Secret. First, obviously, are Jesus’ commandments of silence. A more subtle, secondary aspect is the spiritual rapport between Jesus (now endowed with the pneuma) and the unclean spirits. In other words, the fact that the demons know exactly who Jesus is simply by being nearby, or as Wrede puts it:

A direct rapport exists between him and them; it is not tied to any earthly means of communication. Spirit comprehends spirit, and only spirit can do so. For this reason, the idea that Jesus’ messiahship was a secret is not to be found merely in the command to be silent but is already independently present in the circumstance that the demons know about him. Their knowledge is secret knowledge. (p. 25 — emphasis mine)

Demons detect the proximity of Jesus and immediately know who he is and what his presence on the earth means — namely, that they’re in imminent danger. Further, while they can’t help being terrified by the presence of Jesus, they are “magically drawn to him.” (p. 26)

read more »

Did they really think like this?

Reading ancient texts quite often brings little eyebrow-raising surprises and curiosities — like this passage from Philo’s On the Life of Moses, II. He explains that the unique beauty of the sabbath resulted from it having “no female” element in it whatsoever:

XXXIX. (209) Moreover, in accordance with the honour due to the Creator of the universe, the prophet hallowed the sacred seventh day, beholding with eyes of more acute sight than those of mortals its pre-eminent beauty, which had already been deeply impressed on the heaven and the whole universal world, and had been borne about as an image by nature itself in her own bosom;

(210) for first of all Moses found that day destitute of any mother, and devoid of all participation in the female generation, being born of the Father alone without any propagation by means of seed, and being born without any conception on the part of any mother. And then he beheld not only this, that it was very beautiful and destitute of any mother, neither being born of corruption nor liable to corruption; . . . .

So one born of a mother is inferior because it is produced by means of “seed”?

It’s enough to make one wonder why the Christians didn’t concoct a myth of Jesus springing forth from the Father himself. Come to think of it, some Christians did believe this. Moreover, I supposed the virgin birth was beautiful because it was not the semen of a pagan god that initiated the process, but the Spirit of God himself. So even the virgin birth is entirely in keeping with this Platonic philosophy.

When Bart Ehrman tries to have us believe that the Christian nativity scene is without any counterpart in the world of pagan myths because there is no “seed” from a god involved in the process, he is surely falling behind the times. By the time of Christianity the learned ones had discovered, with the help of Platonic philosophy, a far higher and purer state of being and generation than was ever possible with anthropomorphic deities. But it’s still the same story, the same motif. Only moved up to a “higher” philosophical plane.

20. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 20

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The Brother of the Lord

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • brother of the Lord
  • the meaning of “brother” in the epistles
  • brethren of a sect?
  • plain meanings
  • apologist objections:
    • who is “the Lord”?
    • battle of the prepositions
  • question begging as methodology
  • why not “brother of Jesus”?
  • or “brothers of Jesus”?
  • separating Cephas and James
  • G. A. Wells: a Jewish messianic group?
  • more grammar: genitive vs dative
  • Josephus’ James
  • Ehrman on Robert Price
  • “brother of the Lord” as a marginal gloss
  • question begging as methodology: Ehrman as beggar

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Paul’s Associations

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 145-156)

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English: James the Just, Lord´s brother. Russi...

In his 5th chapter (approximately halfway through the book), Ehrman says he will “wrap up” his discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus by putting forward two points, two pieces of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure.”

The first of these is a favorite of apologists everywhere, because it is so straightforward, so plain. No complex study of a text is required, no knowledge about ancient philosophy or obscure languages is necessary. We merely need to bring an obvious meaning to a five-word phrase, a phrase that is simple even in the original Greek where it is only four words, prefaced by a man’s name: “Iakōbon ton adelphon tou kuriou”:

James, the brother of the Lord

What could be simpler? We ‘know’ from the Gospels that Jesus had a brother named James. Here Paul is declaring that when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion to get to know Cephas, he also saw “James, the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19). How could Jesus have had a brother if he had not lived on earth? Can mythicists not read?

Fortunately, we can. We can read a host of other appearances of the word “brother” (adelphos) in the epistles. Here are a few:

Rom. 16:23 – Greetings also from . . . our brother Quartus.

1 Cor. 1:1 – Paul . . . and our brother Sosthenes

1 Cor. 5:11 – you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is immoral or greedy . . .

1 Cor. 7:12 – If any brother has an unbelieving wife . . .

1 Cor. 8:13 – If food causes my brother to stumble . . . I will not cause my brother to fall.

1 Cor. 16:11-12 – I am expecting (Timothy) along with the brothers. As for brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers.

2 Cor. 2:13 – . . . because I did not find my brother Titus there.

2 Cor. 8:18 – We are sending with him the brother who is praised by all the churches . . .

Phil. 2:25 – . . . to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker . . .

Col. 4:7 – (Tychicus) is a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.

1 Thes. 3:2 – Timothy, our brother and fellow-worker of God in the gospel of Christ.

1 Tim. 3:15 – Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

1 Pet. 5:12 – Silvanus, the faithful brother . . .

2 Pet. 3:15 – Paul, our friend and brother . . .

Rev. 1:9 – I, John, your brother, who share with you . . .

Brethren of a sect

All of these refer unmistakeably to men who are members of the sect (and there are a handful of occurrences of the word “sister” referring unmistakeably to a female member of the sect). The above amount to 14 out of a total of over 40 in the epistles.

In addition, there are about a dozen which, while ambiguously worded, are also virtually certain to be meant as members of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 6:6 – Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers [brothers], but one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers?

James 2:15 – If a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day . . .

James 4:11 – He who disparages a brother or passes judgment on his brother disparages the law and judges the law.

1 Jn 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.

1 Jn 3:10-11 – No one who does not do right is God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love his brother. The latter means a member of sect, since: For the message you have heard from the beginning is this: that we should love one another.

And that’s just in the singular. References to “brothers” in the plural also abound in the dozens, with a clear meaning of “brethren” of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 15:6 – Then he was seen by over five hundred brothers at once.

Heb. 2:11 – . . . for which reason, he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call (the ones made holy, i.e., believers) his brothers.

1 Pet. 5:9 – You know that our brotherhood throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And at this point we need to note the reference in 1 Corinthians 9:5 to “the brothers of the Lord” which is regularly paired with Galatians 1:19 as allegedly referring to siblings of Jesus.

Plain meanings

In the singular, I have been able to locate in the epistles and Revelation only two usages of the word “brother” having the clear meaning of “sibling”: a reference in 1 John to Cain as the murderer of his brother Abel, and the ascription heading the epistle of Jude: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” In the plural there is technically one, in 1 Timothy 5:2. As far as the world of the epistle writers is concerned, a “plain meaning” of “brother” equals the sense of “brethren” in a religious group; it is at least as natural as the sense of sibling. We in the 21st century rarely employ that sense, so to impose our idea of ‘plain meaning’ on theirs is an unjustified anachronism.

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But the apologist objects: “Your examples don’t refer to any of these ‘brothers’ in relation to Jesus!” read more »

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 2

What “Messiah” meant at the time of Paul and the earliest Christians

Continuing with notes from Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism

by Matthew V. Novenson

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christamongmessiahsThe messianic idea

We saw in Part 1 that interpreters of Paul have confidently concluded that whatever Paul meant by χριστός he did not mean “messiah”, but modern studies of messianism have shown that the meaning of “messiah” remains an open question.

Understanding what was meant by “messiah” was much simpler throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jewish and Christian scholars alike took for granted the existence of “the messianic idea” that was widely understood throughout the period of ancient Judaism. The evidence for this idea was not found in every text that made mention of a messiah, but it could be cobbled together by combining motifs from different documents.

So the Christian scholar, Emil Schürer, on the basis of the Apocalypse of Baruch and the fourth Book of Esdras, showed that this messianic idea entailed the following:

  1. The final ordeal and confusion
  2. Elijah as precursor
  3. The coming of the messiah
  4. The last assault of the hostile powers
  5. Destruction of hostile powers
  6. The renewal of Jerusalem
  7. The gathering of the dispersed
  8. The kingdom of glory in the holy land
  9. The renewal of the world
  10. A general resurrection
  11. The last judgment, eternal bliss and damnation

Jewish scholarship did not substantially differ, as seen from Joseph Klausner’s list of ingredients that make up the messianic idea:

  1. The signs of the Messiah
  2. The birth pangs of the Messiah
  3. The coming of Elijah
  4. The trumpet of Messiah
  5. The ingathering of the exiles
  6. The reception of proselytes
  7. The war with Gog and Magog
  8. The Day of the Messiah
  9. The renovation of the World to Come

Klausner conceded that no single text sets out this complex of ideas in full, but these points nonetheless are what the disparate texts mean when put together.

In other words, if a literary text lacks some of the pieces, that is the fault of the text, not of the messianic idea. The idea exists prior to and independently of the texts. (p. 37)

The messianic idea psychologized

What is more, in most modern accounts the messianic idea is described in specifically psychological terms: It is the force that animates the pious Jewish hope for redemption, either throughout Jewish history (in Jewish treatments) or at the time of Christ (in Christian treatments).

In this train we find discussions of the messianic idea arising out of a tenacious belief in a better future despite overwhelming troubles facing the present. Some authors have seen this as one of Judaism’s special gifts to the world alongside monotheism and ethical codes. Scholarly study has accordingly been less about the messiah figure than about the religious attitude and ideology that was the backdrop to various beliefs in such a figure.

The messianological vacuum

The concept of the “messianic idea” in Judaism started to unravel at the end of the Second World War with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars increasingly argued that the words for “messiah” and “christ” in the Second Temple period “had no fixed content” (De Jonge) and may even have had no special significance or meaning at all (James Charlesworth, Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green). They were labels that could be, and were, applied to a wide variety of persons and things. read more »