2012-07-30

Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism

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by Earl Doherty

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Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Using previous scholarship with a different end result
  • Ehrman’s numerous misreadings and misrepresentations of my text
    • Platonic (and other) ancient views of the universe
    • What was the interpretation of the cultic myths:
      • allegorical or literal, heavenly or earthly?
      • among the philosophers?
      • among the devotees of the cult?
      • among the common people?
  • Revisiting 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
  • Revisiting “the rulers of this age”
  • Was the Christ cult Jewish or Greek—or both?
  • Jewish sectarian thinking moves upward
  • Was Pauline Christianity “Aramaic rural Palestinian Judaism”?
  • Must Christ have shed his blood on earth?
  • Problems and declarations

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Was Jesus Crucified in the Spiritual Realm Rather Than on Earth?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 252-258)

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The practice of drawing on previous scholarship

Ehrman calls me “one of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ.” Well, that’s almost the only valid statement he makes about me in the entire book. He starts off with a complaint which has often cropped up in criticisms directed against me:

He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis. (DJE? p. 252)

First of all, I scarcely think I needed to point this out. What mainstream New Testament scholar subscribes to the mythicist theory, let alone that Paul regarded Christ as sacrificed in the heavenly realm? If any of these scholars I draw on had so believed, does Ehrman think I would not have trumpeted it to the skies? I was hardly concealing what anyone would assume was the historicist orientation of such scholars.

Ehrman’s motive in raising that fallacy is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

More importantly, does Ehrman or anyone else regard it as illegitimate of me to draw on observations and conclusions on the part of established scholarship if they can be fitted into the context of my own argument? Mainstream scholars do that all the time. All of scholarship builds on the work of predecessors, and all of those predecessors are subject to reinterpretation and the reapplication of their work to the new conclusions of their successors. Besides, many of my references to the views of historicist scholars involve a clear indication that I make use of their observations in different ways than they do, with different end results.

Enough said on that fallacy. Ehrman’s motive in raising it is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

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Multiple views of the universe
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This is not simply a misreading, it presents the exact opposite of what I actually say.

One of the “problems” Ehrman finds in my book is its main thesis:

One particular piece is especially unconvincing: in Doherty’s view, Paul (and other early Christians) believed that the Son of God had undergone a redeeming “‘blood’ sacrifice” not in this world but in a spiritual realm above it. (DJE? p. 252)

In the course of explaining why he is unconvinced, Ehrman makes a number of egregious misreadings of my text. (I know it is 800 pages, but it is still incumbent upon Ehrman to actually see the words as they stand on the page if he is going to find fault with them.) He says:

Doherty’s reason for this remarkable statement involves what he calls “the ancients’ view of the universe” (was there one such view?). . . . To begin with, how can he claim to have uncovered “the” view of the world held by “the” ancients, a view that involved an upper world where the true reality resides and this lower world, which is a mere reflection of it? How, in fact, can we talk about “the” view of the world in antiquity? Ancient views of the world were extremely complex and varied. . . . (DJE? pp. 252, 254)

This is not simply a misreading, it presents the exact opposite of what I actually say. Included in what I do say are the following:

To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ views [VIEWS, plural] of the universe and the various [i.e., MULTIPLE] concepts of myth among both Jews and pagans, including the features of the Hellenistic salvation cults known as the “mysteries.” [Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.97]

[I]t is clear that much variation existed in the concept of the layered heavens and what went on in them, just as there were many variations in the nature of the savior and how he conferred salvation. [Ibid.,p.126]

Ehrman then implies that the Platonic view of the universe . . . is somehow my own invention. Whereas any undergraduate student of ancient philosophy knows full well that this was a widespread . . . type of cosmology . . . Ehrman is here being either dishonest or incompetent.

Not only has Ehrman misrepresented me as someone who thinks the ancients’ view of the world was monolithic along Platonic lines, he then implies that the Platonic view of the universe, with its upper world of ‘true reality’ and a lower world which is a counterpart reflection of it, is somehow my own invention. Whereas any undergraduate student of ancient philosophy knows full well that this was a widespread (and to some extent even pre-Plato) type of cosmology about the structure of the universe. Unfortunately, much of Ehrman’s readership will not even be undergrads. Ehrman is here being either dishonest or incompetent. Further:

This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the mystery cults, which Doherty claims provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.” (This latter claim, by the way, is simply not true. Most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.) (DJE? pp. 252-253)

This is a non-sequitur. A predominant form of a popular practice does not infer that a majority of the population indulges in it. The predominant form of popular illicit drug is cocaine. Does that mean the majority of all men and women use it? Ehrman is guilty of serious logical deficiencies here.

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From The Jesus Puzzle to Jesus: Neither God Nor Man

Probably the most unfortunate aspect of my earlier book was a failure of nuance on a key point. Ehrman says:

In the first edition of Doherty’s book, he claimed that it was in this higher realm that the key divine events of the mysteries transpired; it was there, for example, that Attis had been castrated, that Osiris had been dismembered, and that Mithras had slain the bull. In his second edition he admits that in fact we do not know if that is true and that we do not have any reflections on such things by any of the cult devotees themselves since we don’t have a single writing from any of the adherents of the ancient mystery cults. Yet he still insists that philosophers under the influence of Plato—such as Plutarch, whom we have met—certainly interpreted things this way. (DJE? p. 253)

First, although the words say so, I needed to have stressed that it was only in the context of interpretations within the mystery cults themselves, and not those of the common man-in-the-street or the average writer speaking of the traditional myths (such as the historian Tacitus or the geographer Pausanias), that I am claiming that a reorientation to the upper world took place for the activities of the savior gods, under the influence of Platonism. And even that may not have been complete, for the age-old setting of the traditional myths in a primordial time on earth would still have made its influence felt.

Still, even though we have no literature directly addressing the activities of the cults and the interpretations of their myths, there are many indicators in the record we do have to suggest that such a reorientation to a Platonic higher world did take place. (In The Jesus Puzzle, I devoted an Appendix to focusing on that evidence, and in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, such discussion was made a part of the main text.)

Thus in The Jesus Puzzle my too-firm claim about the relocation of the cultic mysteries’ myths to the upper world needed to be qualified as “deducible from the evidence,” even if not firmly demonstrated. Ehrman’s claim that I admit that “in fact we do not know if that is true” similarly needs qualification. In both books I have marshalled a great deal of evidence and argument to justify the postulation that, in the minds of the priests and philosophers of the cults and the devotees who had such things explained to them during the secret rituals, the myths were indeed thought of as transpiring in a heavenly dimension. Ehrman fails to address that evidence and argument.

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Philosopher vs. man-in-the-street
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Ehrman has directly reversed what I had to say . . . . Ehrman has accused me of the direct opposite [of what is clearly outlined in my book]

In this connection, Ehrman has directly reversed what I had to say about the differences between the views of the philosophers and the views of the average devotee of the cults, or simply the common person who was familiar with the traditional myth but not a cult member.

What literature we do possess which addresses the cultic gods and their myths are from a handful of philosophers spanning a few centuries. The most important of these is Plutarch, who wrote his treatise Isis and Osiris around the end of the first century CE. Plutarch’s interpretation of the myth is an allegorical one. He does not regard the myth as representing actual activities of the gods, but as symbolizing forces of nature, of the universe, spiritual processes, etc. But in presenting his own interpretation, he gives us information on the various ways contemporary society regarded such myths, and it is clear that many people held a much more literal view of the Isis-Osiris myth than did a philosopher like himself.

That difference, between philosopher and the average person familiar with the myths (whether a devotee of the cult or not), was made clear in my book. Ehrman, on the other hand, has accused me of the direct opposite:

And it is highly unlikely that adherents of the mystery cults (even if we could lump them all together) thought like one of the greatest intellectuals of their day (Plutarch). Very rarely do common people think about the world the way upper-class, highly educated, elite philosophers do. . . . In the case of someone like Plutarch there is, in fact, convincing counterevidence. Philosophers like Plutarch commonly took on the task of explaining away popular beliefs by allegorizing them, to show that despite what average people naively believed, for example, about the gods and the myths told about them, these tales held deeper philosophical truths. (DJE? p. 255)

This distinction between allegorical and literal understanding is an important one, and it figures in much of my analysis of the mystery cults. How Ehrman could have missed it is hard to say. But what, to a great extent, the philosopher and the average cult devotee probably did have in common, if we take into account those indicators I spoke of, is a concept of the myths taking place, whether allegorically or literally, in a supernatural world rather than in a primordial time in the distant past on earth.

Detail of the British museum relief, showing d...

Detail of the British museum relief, showing dog and serpent set at the bull’s wound (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(One myth we can be quite sure of in this respect is Mithras’ slaying of the bull, which has been fairly securely interpreted by modern scholars as representing activities of the god in the heavens in regard to the movement of the stars. In addition, Plutarch gives us an interpretation of the myth of Osiris which relates specifically to heavenly spheres, as do the 4th century philosophers Sallustius and Julian the Apostate in regard to the god Attis.)

But if we can judge by Plutarch’s admonishments—and Ehrman recognizes this in his quote above—members of the cults tended to adopt an outlook of literality on the myths (whether located on earth or in the heavens) which the philosophers felt at pains to correct. This situation is clearly outlined in my book:

Even the traditional religious myths which took shape in ancient society tended to be chaotic and lacking any sense of what we would call the rational and comprehensible (for example, Dionysos born from Zeus’ thigh). Yet such features were still looked upon as ‘real,’ however illogical they may seem to us; they were allegorized only by the intelligentsia. If pressed, average devotees might have been mightily exercised to define exactly how they saw the stories of Attis, Dionysos and Mithras unfolding in their world of myth, let alone to provide a specific location for them. [Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 155]

It tells us that in philosophical circles, and from the time of Plutarch, an application of the myths to a primordial earth setting was no longer in vogue. This may or may not give us a definite picture of how all the devotees of the cults looked upon such things, but it demonstrates that the thinking of the era had moved in an upward direction, and we have no contrary evidence to suggest that the interpretation of the myths in the cults as a whole did not follow. [Ibid., p.149]

Ehrman criticizes me (see above) for admitting that we don’t know for sure what the average devotee of the cults believed, since we don’t have any writings from such people on the subject, but then—as though this is a contradiction—he says: “yet he still insists that philosophers under the influence of Plato—such as Plutarch, whom we have met—certainly interpreted things this way” (i.e., seeing the myths as locatable in the heavenly world).

But there is no contradiction here. Ehrman has just agreed that we do not have any writings from the cult devotees explaining the myths and rites. But from philosophers like Plutarch we do possess writings telling us something about how those myths and rites were interpreted, with specific reference to the layers of the heavens. That is why I can state that such philosophers interpreted the myths in the context of a Platonic heavenly setting.

It is one thing to be expected to rebut a critique of one’s case which accurately and adequately represents it. It is quite another thing to know what to do with a critique which has thoroughly misread that case and thinks to deal with it on the basis of a complete misrepresentation of it. One unfortunate side effect of that misrepresentation is that the uninformed reader has no idea that Ehrman has given them a flawed and inaccurate picture of my position. If he had done that to a thesis presented by some mainstream critical scholar, bloody murder would have been raised and Ehrman’s reputation as any kind of reliable reviewer, let alone a scholar with integrity, would be in tatters.

One paragraph from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.100-1) sums up my position on this whole question:

What we do know is that the philosophers whose writings have come down to us did in fact transplant the myths and it was under the influence of Platonism. They transplanted them from a primordial time to a supernatural dimension, turning them into allegories of cosmic forces and spiritual processes. For them, the religious myths now symbolized things that happened beyond earth. And if that transplanting is the trend to be seen in the surviving writings on the subject, it is very likely that a similar process took place to some degree in the broader world of the devotee and officiant of the mysteries; it cannot be dismissed simply as an isolated elitist phenomenon. In fact, that very cosmological shift of setting can be seen in many of the Jewish intertestamental writings, presenting divine figures and salvific forces operating in the spiritual realm of the heavens, as in the Similitudes of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Ascension of Isaiah and other writings to be examined; in the New Testament itself, the Epistle to the Hebrews presents a spiritual sacrifice by Christ in a heavenly sanctuary.

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Paul’s Christ in the context of the times

Before leaving this topic for good, I should stress an important aspect of my argument in regard to the mysteries. I have stated that I do not use a Platonic interpretation of the pagan mystery cult myths as the primary evidence, let alone the only evidence, for such an interpretation of Paul and his view of his Christ Jesus. The latter is not reliant on the former.

It is the presentation of the Christ cult itself in the epistles which leads to an interpretation that Paul’s faith centers around a heavenly Jesus acting in a supernatural setting. Naturally, the broader philosophy and cosmology of the time provides us with the background against which we can interpret early Christian thinking (just as mainstream scholarship uses it in many ways), and identifying similar ideas in the mystery cults and their own savior god myths provides us with some corroboration for such an interpretation of the epistles’ world and mindset.

But it is primarily

  • the lack of placement of Jesus on earth,
  • the void on a recent historical role for him,
  • his characterization in spiritual and mystical terms,
  • the exclusive appeal to scripture for information about him,
  • his state of being “unknown” for long generations and only now “revealed” by God through the sacred writings,
  • supported by a mountain of evidence in Jewish sectarian intertestamental writings that even Jews looked to the heavenly world for the activities of divine figures and the source of God’s salvation

—all this and more leads one away from seeing the early Christian Jesus as a recent earthly man and instead to a heavenly paradigm whose reality was a spiritual one and whose temporarily-adopted “likeness” to humanity enabled him to descend and undergo sacrifice at the hands of Paul’s “rulers of this age.”

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“The Jews who killed the Lord Jesus”—again
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This is utterly unconscionable on Ehrman’s part, making it sound to his readers that only irresponsible mythicists have made such a claim . . . when in fact [it is a widespread opinion] among liberal scholars, and has been for at least a century.

As an argument against my thesis that Paul’s Christ Jesus was an entirely supernatural figure, crucified in the lower heavens at the hands of the demon spirits, Ehrman once more makes this criticism:

Doherty refuses to allow that l Thessalonians—which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus—can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.) (DJE? p. 253)

I refuse to allow? I insist that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is an insertion into Paul’s writings? It is my textual studies that are driven by convenience? This is utterly unconscionable on Ehrman’s part, making it sound to his readers that only irresponsible mythicists have made such a claim regarding this passage, when in fact interpolation is a widespread opinion on the matter among liberal scholars, and has been for at least a century.

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“The Rulers of this Age”—again
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Who needs logic and counterargument, who needs to rebut one’s opponents’ position, when begging the question is so much easier and so handy?

Considering the importance of 1 Corinthians 2:8 for the mythicist theory, one might expect that Ehrman would devote some space to it. Here he introduces it:

More telling for (Doherty) is the passage I already quoted above from l Corinthians 2:6-8, which indicates that the “rulers of this age” were the ones who “crucified the Lord of glory.” For Doherty these are obviously not human rulers but demonic forces. Thus for Paul and other early Christians, Christ was not a human crucified on earth but a divine being crucified in the divine realm. (DJE? pp. 253-254)

Once again, the meaning of this phrase is not “obvious” only to me, but to a whole range of scholars over the last century. As well, of course, to ancient commentators themselves who “obviously” must have been familiar with the contemporary connotation of the phrase.

Now, lest I garner more criticism for an illegitimate appeal to mainstream scholarship, let me make it clear that those scholars who understand the phrase as a reference to the demon spirits, such as S. G. F. Brandon, do not draw the conclusion that Paul actually located that crucifixion in the heavenly realm. Most will simply conclude, as Origen was the first to do, that Paul was speaking of the demons working through human agents on earth, but somehow bearing the primary responsibility.

And yet, that is a superimposed layer of interpretation, one produced, of course, by the Gospels. But the willingness on the part of some mainstream scholars like Brandon to recognize the meaning of the phrase as intended by Paul is a piece of interpretation which a mythicist like myself can make use of with full legitimacy. If the phrase does mean the demon spirits—who do, after all, inhabit the lower reaches of the heavens where they engage in disreputable human-like activities which we have no reason to think could not include a hanging on a tree (views of the heavens as a whole are full of such ‘geomorphic’ envisionings, many of them gruesome)—then this becomes a perfectly valid plank in the mythicist theory.

And just how does Ehrman deal with that plank? Does he nail it down so that it doesn’t trip up historicism’s stroll in the park?

But is this really what Paul thought—the Paul who knew Jesus’s own brother and his closest disciple Peter, who learned of traditions of Jesus just a year or two after Jesus’s death? (DJE? p. 254)

This is Ehrman’s rebuttal? How could it possibly be demons in the heavens who crucified Jesus when Paul knew the historical Jesus’ own brother and closest disciple, and learned all about him within a year or two after Calvary? Who needs logic and counterargument, who needs to rebut one’s opponents’ position, when begging the question is so much easier and so handy? In Jesus: Neither God Nor Man I spent six pages on “the rulers of this age,” plus at other spots touching on certain points about the question, and this is what Ehrman thinks is sufficient to dismiss it?

His insistence on mentioning the Stoics and Epicureans as though they had not crossed my mind is yet another reason to suspect that he did not himself read my book . . .

As for this objection:

Is this why Paul persecuted the Christians—not for saying the (earthly) messiah was crucified by the Romans but for saying that some kind of spiritual being was killed in heaven by demons? And why exactly was that so offensive to Paul? Why would it drive him to destroy the new faith, as he himself says in Galatians 1 that he did? (DJE? p. 254)

Aside from it being unclear why Paul was acting on behalf of the Jewish religious authorities to persecute the new faith, it was hardly on the basis of it claiming that demons in the heavens had killed a spiritual figure they called the messiah. It was far more likely because they were preaching him as a heavenly part of God and compromising the establishment’s strict monotheism.

It is at this point that Ehrman erroneously imputes to me a monolithic view of the cosmology of the ancients. His insistence on mentioning the Stoics and Epicureans as though they had not crossed my mind is yet another reason to suspect that he did not himself read my book, in which I do make mention of rival philosophies to Platonism. (There has been some question about whether he indulged in the scholarly practice of having one’s undergrad students read the material and supply a report on it.)

But there is also no denying that Platonism was the dominant viewpoint of the day where cosmology was concerned, especially in Hellenistic Judaism, and there is no reason to reject a new Jewish-gentile movement whose own cosmology was Platonically oriented. It shows once again that Judaism was not isolated from pagan thought.

Raphael’s School of Athens with Zeno the Stoic (1), Epicurus (2) and Plato (14) highlighted

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Jewish vs. Greek
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Some very un-Jewish ideas

  • eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ
  • a believer entering into joint carnality with the body of Christ
  • dying with Christ through baptism

And yet Ehrman seems to think so:

Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (DJE? p. 255)

And what would Ehrman say of Philo? His thought-world resided within the Hebrew scriptures, but he brought some very non-Jewish principles to their interpretation, principles which permeated the air of the time. There is scarcely a stronger Middle Platonist in this era than Philo, who in his own mind was thoroughly a Jew.

Paul may not have been the saturated Platonist that Philo was, and his dependence on the scriptures is undeniable, but his christology contains some very un-Jewish ideas. Was the concept of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ related to Jewish tradition? Not that I’ve heard of. How about the concept of the believer entering into joint carnality with the body of Christ? No connection there with Second Temple Judaism that I know. Dying with Christ through baptism? That was hardly right up the Jewish traditional alley. Says Ehrman,

And the Hebrew scriptures certainly did not discount the events that transpire here on earth among very real humans. For the writers of the Hebrew Bible, the acts of God did not transpire in some kind of ethereal realm above us all. They happened here on earth and were deeply rooted in daily, historical, real human experience. (DJE? pp. 255-256)

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Earth vs. Heaven

And so they were. But the Hebrew Bible ended early in the second century BCE. And in its last canonical book, Daniel, we already see the beginnings of a shift to a concern with the heavenly world and God’s activities within it, a focus which was continued and enlarged on in much of the Jewish intertestamental writings.

The seminal scene in Daniel 7, in which God bestows power and glory on the “one like a son of man” representing the nation of Israel, is not conducted on earth, but in that “ethereal realm above us all.” The literary fascination with seers and prophets receiving guided tours above the earth, ascending through the layers of heaven and learning of their content and preparations for the future, as in the Similitudes of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah and the Ascension of Isaiah, shows that some Jewish thought was moving beyond—or ‘higher’ than—any former biblical traditions. The document 2 Enoch contains extended accounts of activities going on in the spiritual layers of the universe.

The Pauline corpus’ obsession with the threat of dark cosmic powers who inhabit the heavens, the period’s fixation on the threat from the demons, has little precedent in the Hebrew bible and marks a new development in Jewish thought, as it did in Hellenistic outlook generally.

And inasmuch as Gnosticism is now seen as having had at least a partial origin within radical Jewish circles preceding Christianity, with its center of attention on a heavenly world and the workings of the Godhead, we can see an era-wide development in an interest in the Platonic view of an upper part of the cosmos where divine activities took place.

Even Philo, with his focus on the Logos as emanation of God, as well as his “Heavenly Man” concept—another fixation in the period’s picture of divine realities which shows up in Paul’s concept of Christ as “anthrōpos”—demonstrates the saturation of earthly thought with heavenly imaginings.

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Jewish sectarian trends

Much of these imaginings took place in what we would call Jewish sectarian circles, which the establishment may well have turned a jaundiced eye upon, yet what was Christianity but a sectarian expression? What was Paul’s system, and whatever preceded him as seen in the christological hymns, but the imaginings of a sect? Paul did not even see the kingdom of God (wherever he placed it—1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 suggests it was not on this mundane earth, and other sects envisioned the righteous inheriting thrones and crowns in heaven) as being possessed by normal flesh and blood. All of this hardly fell into the category of “daily human experience.”

Ehrman’s attempt to restrict the Christ cult’s horizon to something which would exclude every pagan influence is ludicrous.

Ehrman does his best to ignore any facets of Pauline thought which could not possibly be said to have arisen out of Jewish traditions. Instead, as with most modern scholarship which has pulled in its wagons to circle narrowly defined Jewish sources, he maintains that mystery cult influences cannot be identified as present within “Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism of the 20s and 30s of the first century,” as though this is the sum total of the nature of the early church Paul joined.

Did Paul—and even the Jerusalem pillars—move only in rural areas?

Did they speak and write in Aramaic? (Not according to the entire New Testament record they didn’t.)

Did they live their lives wholly in Palestine? If Acts is correct that Paul was from Tarsus, this is far removed from any Aramaic rural Palestine. Tarsus was the center of Mithras worship.

Paul is as at home in Corinth and Ephesus as he is in Jerusalem, and he encounters rival apostles of the Christ all over the eastern empire, some preaching “another Jesus,” who have no connection to the Jerusalem group.

The Christian congregation in Rome later possessed a tradition that it had adopted belief in Christ without benefit of outside preaching, from Jerusalem or anywhere else.

Ehrman’s attempt to restrict the Christ cult’s horizon to something which would exclude every pagan influence is ludicrous.

Ehrman appeals to Paul as having been a Pharisee. “Were Pharisaic Jews influenced by the mystery cults?” he asks. Were they, or the Sadducees, or the Essenes, students of the mysteries? I could agree that they were not. But does this prevent any individual or individuals that might be within these classes from being open to such influences? By way of analogy, an ethnic group might as a rule not marry outside the group, but does that mean that no one within the group ever does? Ehrman obviously does not understand the principle of mutation. Besides, not every Jew was an active Pharisee, Sadducee or Essene.

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An influence from the mysteries?

Ehrman maintains:

These mystery cults are never mentioned by Paul or by any other Christian author of the first hundred years of the church. (DJE? p. 256)

Well, Paul makes a pretty clear allusion to at least the sacred meal practices of such pagan cults in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22. And because of the exclusivity the Christ cult adopted, it would be very unlikely to acknowledge any commonality with, let alone derivation from, the ideas of the pagan mysteries. They would have convinced themselves that they were something quite original and the genuine article, helped by the fact that in their Jewish context, they could be seen as different and unique.

Moreover, Ehrman has not taken note of the fact that I impute to the Christ cult very little direct conscious borrowing from the mysteries of the day.

Moreover, Ehrman has not taken note of the fact that I impute to the Christ cult very little direct conscious borrowing from the mysteries of the day. It was simply feeding into ideas which formed the very atmosphere of popular religion and salvation theory of the period.

Sacred meal of the Sun god and Mithras

Sacred meal of the Sun god and Mithras over the slain bull

And once Christianity had expanded sufficiently that it attracted attention and opposition from pagan observers, then comparisons of its basic ideas with those of the mysteries and other mythology could not be avoided by its apologetic defenders. If at that point the similarities were undeniable by such as Justin Martyr, and referred to with scorn by such as Celsus, it is highly unlikely that at its inception a century earlier the cult of Christ Jesus the savior god could have been free of any similarities or dependency, conscious or unconscious, on its older cousins.

And Ehrman is simply wrong in this statement:

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that these cults played the least role in the development of early views of Jesus. (DJE? p. 257)

Quite the contrary, there is plenty of evidence. It is present in the beliefs and practices of the “early views” found in Paul and the other epistle writers, which cannot be derived from Jewish precedents and which bear strong resemblance to concepts native to Hellenistic philosophy and salvation religions. (If Joe’s wife has a child which bears a striking resemblance to Joe’s best friend Bill, should we blithely accept her assurances that she has never been unfaithful?)

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Shedding blood on earth

Of course, by “early views of Jesus” Ehrman is largely focusing on the Gospels:

That is not the view of Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John. It is not the view of any of the written sources of any of these Gospels, for example, M and L. It is not the view of any of the oral traditions that later made their way into these Gospels. (DJE? p. 257)

Once again, Ehrman is calling upon his ‘multiple independent sources,’ all of which are derived from a story which has created the picture of a crucifixion for Jesus on earth where it did not exist before. But he also brings in a couple of epistles in support, ironically the two which are in fact least equipped to provide it. Hebrews, as we have seen, excludes from its picture of Jesus’ sacrifice anything earthly and places his activities entirely in heaven, with a source of knowledge about him drawn solely from scripture. Ehrman has him “coming into the world” (10:5) quoting from Psalm 40, while Jesus acts “in the days of his flesh” (5:7) by performing passages from other Psalms.

As for interpreting 10:12’s “But Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sin” as “making a bloody sacrifice in this world,” this not only ignores the entire Hebrews portrayal of that sacrifice in terms of the offering of his blood in the heavenly sanctuary, it turns a blind eye on the following words: “and took his seat at the right hand of God,” which seems to regard the two locations as next door to one another. There is no “in this world” in sight anywhere in Hebrews’ picture. In fact, Ehrman overlooks 8:4 which states that Jesus had never been on earth (another multi-page discussion in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man which he has ignored).

From 1 John, Ehrman turns neuter pronouns about the revelation of eternal life at the formation of the sect into a hearing and ‘man-handling’ of the preaching Jesus of Nazareth. 1 John also provides evidence that Jesus “shed his blood as an expiation for sin,” though regrettably it does not provide any indication that this shedding took place on earth. And this from an epistle which has to deal with the very question of whether Jesus Christ had actually “come in the flesh” or not, a debate in which both sides were dependent entirely on revelations from the spirit (4:1-4).

More “blood” from Paul also demonstrates for Ehrman that it had to be shed on earth, and he reads into Paul’s references to Jesus’ resurrection that this was a “bodily” one—something which Paul never states and which most critical scholars today now reject. And if the epistle to the Hebrews envisions its blood sacrifice as having taken place on Calvary, it provides no explanation for how that blood was collected (in one of the ‘skulls’ lying around Golgotha perhaps?), or how the dead Christ, ascending in spirit, transported it to the heavenly sanctuary where he offered it to God on the altar.

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Problematic arguments

Ehrman appeals to the curious non-sequitur that if Christ appeared to earthlings rather than to heavenly beings after his resurrection, then the latter had to take place on earth. (Hmmm . . . doesn’t the christological hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 say that after he was resurrected in spirit, he “was seen by angels”? There is no mention of being seen by earthlings—before or after death; and by Ehrman’s argument, wouldn’t this have to require that his resurrection was in the angels’ domain?)

There is, naturally, mention of “born of woman, born under the Law” of Galatians 4, which has its own problems and is vulnerable to arguments for interpolation (some supplied by Ehrman himself, as we have seen), though even if authentic it contains curiosities such as Paul’s use of a verb which does not directly convey human birth. These points were discussed earlier in this series.

Ehrman also considers that mention of “on the night he was delivered up” in 1 Corinthians 11:23 assuredly points to an earthly event, without taking into account that myths can enjoy any geomorphic setting required by their subject matter, and that the ancients’ understanding of the nature of the heavenly world was not like our own. His query, “Do they have nights in the spiritual realm?” might well have been answered yes, especially if Paul’s Lord’s Supper myth had a symbolic linking with Passover, whose celebratory meal took place after sundown.

. . . the elements of a rite often give rise to a myth which explains it, rather than the myth or alleged historical event producing an imitative rite.

Ehrman states that Paul “stresses” Jesus’ burial (I am not sure if slipping it in between his gospel of dying and rising, both known “kata tas graphas” whereas the burial is not, constitutes ‘stressing’), from which he concludes:

Surely he means he was buried in a tomb, and that would mean here on earth. (DJE? p. 258)

It’s nice to be “sure” of something which is an asset to one’s case, but nowhere in the epistles does anyone refer to a “tomb” for Jesus, much less to any tradition of an “empty tomb” three days later. And if one looks at Romans 6:4, “By baptism we were buried with him,” one can see the probable reason Paul slipped in burial between Christ’s dying and rising: it conformed in paradigmatic fashion with the burial he envisioned for the devotee who died to his old life and emerged into a new one. As G. A. Wells once observed (as have others), the elements of a rite often give rise to a myth which explains it, rather than the myth or alleged historical event producing an imitative rite.

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Ehrman’s Conclusion

Paul and others expected Jesus to return from heaven, into this very realm where we dwell now (1 Thessalonians 4-5), leading to the transformation of both us and the world (1 Corinthians 15). Paul thought Christ was to “return” here because he had “left” here. This is where he was born, lived, died, and was raised. It all happened here on earth, not in some other celestial realm. Jesus was killed by humans. The forces of evil may have ultimately engineered this death (although, actually, Paul says God did); the demons (whom Paul never mentions) may have inspired the authorities to do the dirty deed, but it was they who did it. (DJE? p. 258)

In typical Ehrman fashion, things not at all in evidence in the record—in this case, the epistolary one—are simply declared to be:

  • The word “return” he presents as though a quote from Paul, whereas no such word is ever used by any epistle writer in reference to Jesus’ coming in glory at the Parousia. It is indeed notably missing.
  • Despite the controversy over “rulers of this age” and its common interpretation, especially in ancient times, Ehrman delcares that Paul never mentioned them. (The prominent mention of demons in Colossians and Ephesians requires him to dismiss any thought that these pseudo-Pauline epistles owe anything to the ideas of Paul.)
  • The ‘birth, life and death’ on earth are likewise missing.
  • No such clear, direct language as “when he lived on earth” or “during his life among us” is ever found in the epistles.

But in fact:

The epistles universally characterize the appearance of the Son Jesus in the present period as a “revelation.”

Right after that questionable “born of woman, born under the Law” in Galatians 4 we find Paul stating that God “has sent the spirit of the Son.”

Similarly, as a guarantee of his promises of eternal life, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:5 says that “God has sent the Spirit.”

Contrary to all the oral traditions claimed by Ehrman about a teaching Jesus in Galilee, Paul can say in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 that “We are taught by God to love another.”

There is often no foothold for an historical Jesus in the picture created of the origin and progress of the early movement, or in the sequence of God’s salvation history.

And so on, into the sunset. There are a host of such indicators throughout the epistles that no “birth, life and death” for a Jesus on earth was envisioned.

In the face of all this contrary evidence in the record itself, Ehrman’s desperate declaration that mythicism is flat wrong does not make it so.

.

. . . to be continued

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18 Comments

  • Brettongarcia
    2012-07-30 03:26:53 UTC - 03:26 | Permalink

    Doherty:

    Good work!

    For some time, one of the main thrusts of conservative Christianity, has been to try to assert that Christianity is rather wholly from only Jewish traditions; without much influence from other ANE cultures; including Greco-roman Platonism especially. This assertion is made continually today. Even though many classic scholars established these things long ago, that tradition was denied by Christian conservatives, from about 1950-2012. Conservatives have been eager to deny any such influence from “outside” a strict, conservative Jewish tradition – because in part? The Bible seemed to say that only the Hebrew “God” should influence our religion. While any other influences, from other gods or cultures, was thought to be “worshiping false gods” and so forth.

    Yet though conservative Jews indeed, often rejected foreign influences, the striking feature of the New Testament, is that …though it gives lip service to being quite conservatively loyal to OT Jewish tradition only … on the other hand, there are constant hints that some foreign influences or connections might be allowed. Jesus for example, at times seems to disdain non-Jewish Samaritans; but other times Jesus accepts water from a Samaritan woman. Even telling his apostles he has “sources” of sustenance they know nothing about. While congratulating a Roman centurion for having greater “faith” than any Jew; and telling us that a Good Samaritan can be a better person, than even a Jewish priest or rabbi. (While of course Paul is famous for his Hellenistic ideas; and turning away from jewish “law,” by way of various legalistic sophistries).

    Conservative Christian scholars for the past few decades, have tried denying any non-Jewish influences on Christianity; and in effect, any influence from other “myths.” They have been asserting the ballad of the “Wholly Jewish Jesus” for many years. But their Denial of obvious other influenes, has come about, in part because, I suggest, of their false understanding of the New testament’s nature.

    The New Testament at times to be sure, often seemed to claim to be absolutely true to even a conservative (if not Pharisaic) Judaism. But in many various ways, it also opened up to foreign influences. Andto say, the idea that a good Gentile could be a better person, than even a Jewish rabbi, or a priest. While a close reading of the New Testament finds dozens of influences from many various ANE cultures; but especially Greco-Romanism, and especially, Platonism.

    The current, Wholly Jewish Jesus fad, is quite a-historical. And it is in simple denial of a great deal of evidence – and great masses of classics scholarship.

    For that matter, the notion of a wholly Jewish Jesus is not even really consistent with the Jesus of the New testament, himself.

    • Andrew
      2012-07-30 05:18:55 UTC - 05:18 | Permalink

      “Conservative Christian scholars for the past few decades, have tried denying any non-Jewish influences on Christianity; and in effect, any influence from other ‘myths.'”

      It sounds like conservative Christians need to brush up on Justin Martyr, who whole-heartedly embraced similarities between Christianity and “pagan” religions in his “First Apology”:

      “And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars?”

  • David Hillman
    2012-07-30 03:42:36 UTC - 03:42 | Permalink

    Of course it’s right to use earlier scholars who might disagree with your conclusions. Very many decent history books begin like this. And Aristotle, the greatest thinker of antiquity, takes up much of his writings on metaphysics by using (and criticising) the writings of his predecessors.
    In his Metaphysics Aristotle says in book one:
    “ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses…”, and in book two: “THE investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, we do not collectively fail, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed…”It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought… It is true that if there had been no Timotheus we should have been without much of our lyric poetry; but if there had been no Phrynis there would have been no Timotheus. The same holds good of those who have expressed views about the truth; for from some thinkers we have inherited certain opinions, while the others have been responsible for the appearance of the former.”
    Should we be surprised that Charles Darwin quoted Paley and loved his Natural Theology, that Marx quotes Hobbes and Adam Smith, that both Galileo and Newton at various times said they loved Aristotle but loved truth more ( for they objected never to Aristotle the colossal thinker on whose shoulders they stood, but on those who treated him as an authority). And of couse Einstein wrote glowing prefaces to reprints of Newton’s and Galileo’s work.
    Of course we build our ideas on earlier workers with whom we disagree. That is what respect of scholarship is all about (apart from respect for specialized skills – I would never tell a plasterer how to plaster a wall), This is all the difference in the world from the “argument from authority”.

    • 2012-07-30 05:56:44 UTC - 05:56 | Permalink

      On “respect for specializzed skills”: A paraphrase of a statement from Neither God nor Man substituting but one word, Universe for Christianity to make the point: “The advent of the Internet has introduced an uprecedented ‘lay’ element of scholarship in the field — the absence of peer presure — has meant that the study of (Universe) origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional acedemia”(Quantum Relativity Physics).

      • David Hillman
        2012-07-30 07:00:40 UTC - 07:00 | Permalink

        Well, in reply to Ed Jones, I am certain that if more lay people were aware of the arguments about the origins of the universe and of quantum relativity physics, and debated them, it would be all to the good. Apart from Sir Isaac Newton, most of the greatest scientists wanted science for the masses. That’s why Galileo published his dialogues in Italian not Latin, why Faraday stated the Christmas lectures,why Darwin published his theories in the very readable Origins of the Species and not in a separate monograph,why Einstein’s work on relativity is short and simple. It would be good to have the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, string theory, many worlds discussed by as many people as possible.Yes to be a physicist demands skills (mathematical and experimental) and so does doing history or language.But that does not imply any kind of elitism!
        John Baez, who by the way is Joan Baez cousin, has an amusing guide here as to how to recognise crackpot theories http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html
        – notice the many caveats of without evidence. It’s all about evidence and good argument, never about credentials and the appeal to authority.

        • 2012-07-30 11:49:46 UTC - 11:49 | Permalink

          David, You have missed my point. I should have been more explicit. My point was to demonstsrate a(the)fundamental fallacy of the mythicists’ argument. Specifically,its consistent failure to take accout the present understanding of our top scholars of the NT Studies Guild. I have posted a brief treatment of this development in a comment: A viable historical solution to the “Jesus Puzzle”. Found at: Debunking Christianity – John Loftus. Check ‘link’ to where he found it. Note Hoffmann’s comment.

          • Brettongarcia
            2012-07-30 12:00:24 UTC - 12:00 | Permalink

            Ed:

            I agree that more current scholarship needs to be taken into account by Mythicists; and I appreciate your recent summary of some of it. Indeed though, I’d suggest that in effect, much of that scholarship supports the mythicist thesis. Depending on how you look at it, the glass of “Jesus” today is 1/10 full – or at least 9/10 empty.

            As I’m trying to note on Larry Hurtado’s blog: “It is surprising that Historicist, Historical Jesus folks today present themselves as the status quo and the assured summit of biblical studies. It wasn’t too long ago that 1) Crossan and the Jesus Seminar historicists were controversial, to say the least. Even 2) Meier’s c. 1999 review of them was sometimes positive, but sometimes negative. Parenticularly there are 3) wellknown problems with their historiographical methodology; especially the “Criterion of Embarassment.” Even as 4) there have always been many works from Classics departments suggesting that huge segments – and potentially, all – of the New Testament, were influenced by ANE and Greco-Roman influences … or myths.

            Indeed, the factuality of one element after another of the NT has been severely questioned by one academic after another – and found wanting. So that today? The thesis that the NT is more or less wholly mythic, now presents itself as a viable thesis. Particulary from relevant information regarded as “outside” the field of study; the Classics departments for example. (To say nothing of our Physics departments).

            In fact, it was the rather arbitrary stipulation that Classics – and Greco-Roman influences therefore – were “outside” the field, that simply arbitarily removed the greatest evidence of mythic influences from the “accepted” “field of study,” our religous scholars’ field of attention.”

            If we broaden the scope of our inquiry just a bit … we begin to see more and more mythic content in the Bible; especially Greco-Roman myth.

            • Grog
              2012-07-31 03:40:42 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

              Is there a link to Ed’s summary that you referenced above?

              • brettongarcia
                2012-08-01 06:10:42 UTC - 06:10 | Permalink

                Can’t find it offhand; I’d be sincerely greatful if Ed furnished it!

              • 2012-08-01 08:03:31 UTC - 08:03 | Permalink

                bretton, I am not certain just which comment you are referencing with: “your earlier summary on this blog”. In my above Reply to Robert I named the Link: Debunking Christianity – Ed Jones on A viable solution to the Jesus Puzzle, by John Loftus, take of Loftus’ link, to where he found it. I also name the Link: Ed Jones Dialogue -Vridar,this is a reconstructiion of Jesus origins. This is about all of the comments that might be called summaries, Thanks for your interest.

  • Andrew
    2012-07-30 05:11:50 UTC - 05:11 | Permalink

    The Preaching of Peter, a second century document, affirms that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were all to be found in the Prophetic books of the LXX.

    “Peter in the Preaching, speaking of the apostles, says: But we having opened the books of the prophets which we had, found, sometimes expressed by parables, sometimes by riddles, and sometimes directly (authentically) and in so many words naming Jesus Christ, both his coming and his death and the cross and all the other torments which the Jews inflicted on him, and his resurrection and assumption into the heavens before Jerusalem was founded (MS. judged), even all this things as they had been written, what he must suffer and what shall be after him. When, therefore, we took knowledge of these things, we believed in God through that which had been written of him.And a little after he adds that the prophecies came by Divine providence, in these terms: For we know that God commanded them in very deed, and without the Scripture we say nothing.”

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/preachingpeter.html

  • Brettongarcia
    2012-07-30 20:09:01 UTC - 20:09 | Permalink

    Earl?

    I feel that this particular installment of Earl Doherty’s selfdefense, his defense of mythicism against the attacks by Ehrman, is particularly effective in addressing common questions by everyday Christians.

    Many Christians wrongly find Doherty’s references to “cosmic” things a bit remote. But when we are reminded that in effect, by “cosmic” notions, we are thinking of “spiritual” things, things in “heaven” as much as things on this “earth”? All this might make much more conventional sense to an everyday Christian.

    Then too, next? For the somewhat more scholarly world? Linking the idea of a “cosmic” Jesus, to the Classics, and to Plato, begins to tie all this to classic scholarship as well.

    • Grog
      2012-07-31 03:22:32 UTC - 03:22 | Permalink

      I do think it creates a barrier to understanding when Carrier and others use terms like “outer space” or “sublunar.” Christian understanding of these terms is “heaven” whether we mean the third heaven or just heaven. Early christians did not have a concept of “outer space” in the way we do. Yes, to us, it was outer space they were talking about, but to them it was heaven. Modern Christians have had to abolish heaven to a different plane of existence due to advances in cosmological understanding.

  • Pingback: Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty's Response to … | Christian Dailys

  • John
    2012-07-31 03:38:09 UTC - 03:38 | Permalink

    I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s not to defend Ehrman, but I think 1 Thes. 2:14-16 is genuine.

    The reference to “God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus” in 2:14 is similar to an expression Paul uses in Gal. 1:22: “[T]he churches of Judea that are in Christ.”

    The reference to what these churches “suffered from the Jews” is similar to Paul’s sufferings after his conversion in 2 Cor. 11:24-26: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned … I have been … in danger from my own countrymen.”

    In his “previous way of life in Judaism,” even Paul had “intensely … persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:13-14).

    And in Rom. 15:31, Paul says, “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea.”

    The reference to “the Jews” in 1 Thes. 2:14 is also used in 1 Cor. 9:20: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.”

    There is nothing unPauline about 1 Thes. 2:14.

    One issue with “the Jews” in 1 Thes. 2:15-16 is that they “displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sin to the limit.”

    Paul says that his message of “Christ crucified” was “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23), and that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). This “veil” has not been removed from the hearts of unbelieving Jews, “because only in Christ is it taken away … [W]henever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (3:14-15).

    Paul hopes that he “will be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea … so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (Rom. 15:31-32).

    He says unbelieving Jews will be saved when they accept his gospel, but until then they have “experienced a hardening” (Rom. 11:25) and “have now become disobedient” (11:31), and that “as far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account” (11:28).

    He would like unbelieving Jews to be saved, and could “testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:1-4).

    These are examples from Paul’s letters that show how he thinks the Jews “displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they heap up their sin to the limit.” There is nothing unPauline about these statements.

    The other issue with “the Jews” is that they “killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out” (1 Thes. 2:15). On the question of whether Paul would ever accuse Jews of killing the prophets, this is something that is mentioned in the OT: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Ki. 19:10, 19:14); “They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you” (Neh. 9:26); “Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravening lion” (Jer. 2:30).

    Paul is aware of this in Rom. 11:2-3: “Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah -how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me'”? So there is nothing unPauline (or even anti-semitic) about saying that the Jews killed the prophets.

    As for saying that the Jews “drove us out,” this is sometimes translated as “persecuted” (http://concordances.org/greek/1559.htm), and Paul was persecuted by Jews in 2 Cor. 11:24-26 and expresses concern about it in Rom. 15:31.

    1 Thes. 2:16 says, “The wrath of God has come upon them fully.” Paul discusses God’s wrath at length throughout Romans. First he applies it generally to everyone who does evil: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who supress the truth by their wickedness (1:18). “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (2:9).

    Then he says “the law brings wrath” (4:15).

    Then he says unbelieving Jews are objects of wrath: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath -prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory -even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles? … What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works” (9:22-32).

    I think this is the “wrath” that 1 Thes. 2:16 says has “come upon them fully.” Jews who did not have faith in Jesus and followed a law that brings wrath are now “objects of his wrath -prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). They “are perishing” (2 Cor. 4:3). They had not “attained” (or “come upon”) God’s righteousness (Rom. 9:31). This word is also used in 1 Thess. 2:16 to describe God’s wrath, which had “come upon them fully” instead.

    • Grog
      2012-07-31 04:47:46 UTC - 04:47 | Permalink

      John, have your read Pearson’s influential article? He does not rest his reasoning solely on the un-pauline nature of the passage. He has a structural argument as well. So you have addressed part of the arugment (though I don’t think convincingly) but not the second part, which is how Pearson arrived on the whole of 1 Thess 2:13-16 being an interpolation. He notes, for example, that the passage introduces a structural anomoly “in that it has as now constituted two ‘thanksgiving’ sections'” (Pearson, HTR, Jan. 1971). So beyond the very detailed critical discussion that I find convincing versus your argument, there are added reasons to accept that this an interpolation. I have access to this article on JSTOR and I believe my terms of usage do not allow me to share it with you.

      • John
        2012-07-31 05:12:52 UTC - 05:12 | Permalink

        I have not read this article. I am open to having any flaws in my reasoning pointed out. I am not trying to persuade anyone, only outlining my reasons for why thinking 1 Thes. 2:14-16 is not an interpolation. I am not convinced by what I have seen concerning this passage on the Jesus Puzzle website.

        • brettongarcia
          2012-08-01 06:22:08 UTC - 06:22 | Permalink

          To be sure though, 1) this text is on the first page or two of the text; one of the most common places in texts for interpolations; scribal introductions and so forth.

          In any case? My own hypothethesis on 2) many Pauline references to “churches” and the brethren, congregations and so forth, is that Paul might be read as referring to fellow Jews; not specifically Christians, much of the time.

          So that even in the references pericope here? 3) It would not be the entire passage, but only the phrase that references God “in Jesus Christ” that would be interpolated.;

          Partially 4) confirming my hypothesis of the primary of the Jewish “God,” over Jesus? Note that this same passage, still gives the “the churches” of the old Jewish “God” himself, not Jesus, first and most prominent place (2.14; refering to the “churches of God”); 5) “in Jesus Christ” could even be understood as a mere clerical flourish or secondary advocacy at most.

          Or even quite likely? A three-word interpolation.

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