A little exchange of views (beginning here) on Larry Hurtado’s blog (Hurtado generously offers a platform for some interesting resources for those interested in mythicist arguments 😉 ) has alerted me to something no doubt many who follow Richard Carrier’s writings more attentively than I have done will already know that Carrier writes:
Nor was the idea of a preexistent spiritual son of God a novel idea among the Jews anyway. Paul’s contemporary, Philo, interprets the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 6:11-12 in just such a way. In the Septuagint this says to place the crown of kingship upon “Jesus,” for “So says Jehovah the Ruler of All, ‘Behold the man named ‘Rises’, and he shall rise up from his place below and he shall build the House of the Lord’.” This pretty much is the Christian Gospel. Philo was a Platonic thinker, so he could not imagine this as referring to “a man who is compounded of body and soul,” but thought it meant an “incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image” whom “the Father of the Universe has caused to spring up as the eldest son.” Then Philo says, “In another passage, he calls this son the firstborn,” and says “he who is thus born” imitates “the ways of his father.” (Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-251)
Carrier then quotes the passage from Philo, and I quote it here from the Yonge translation available online. The word “East” has since been better understood as “Rises”, as in the rising of the sun:
“Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father . . . . (On the Confusion of Tongues, Book 14:62, 63)
Before adding my own discussion I’ll quote the next paragraph from Carrier, too:
In the same book, Philo says even if no one is “worth to be called a Son of God,” we should still “labor earnestly to be adorned according to his firstborn Logos, the eldest of his angels, the ruling archangel of many names,” and notably Jesus is also called the firstborn Logos, and Christians were also called upon to try and emulate him and adorn themselves like him. Elsewhere Philo adds “there are two Temples of God, and one is this cosmos, wherein the High Priest is the Firstborn Son, the Divine Logos.” Compare these remarks with Colossians 1:12-19 and Hebrews 1:1-14 and the connections are obvious. Likewise with Zechariah 6:11-13, which not only says Jesus will “build the temple of the Lord,” but “he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne, and he shall be a priest upon his throne.”
Carrier has a PDF presentation addressing these points.
A 2005 article in the Journal of Theological Studies (doi:10.1093/jts/fli105) by Simon Gathercole links Philo’s interpretation of the Zechariah passage with Luke 1:78-79. Speaking of the coming of Jesus, the father of John the Baptist says:
Through the tender mercies of our God, In which the Rising from on high did look upon us,
To give light to those sitting in darkness and death-shade, To guide our feet to a way of peace.’
So the Gospel of Luke knows of the Rising as Jesus, and Zechariah 6:11-12 also tells us that the name of this one who Rises is Jesus:
And thou shalt take gold and silver: and shalt make crowns, and thou shalt set them on the head of Jesus the son of Josedec, the high priest.
And thou shalt speak to him, saying: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, saying: BEHOLD A MAN, THE ORIENT (i.e. RISES) IS HIS NAME: and under him shall he spring up, and shall build a temple to the Lord.
(Carrier says that this Jesus was to be crowned king, but I think the crown was for the priestly authority. But that’s a side issue.)
The JTS article also notes the striking contrast between the Zechariah 6:12 claim that the “Rises” “will arise from beneath” while the Gospel’s claim is that this Jesus-Rises “will visit from on high“.
But what does this make of the Jesus (Joshua) in the Book of Zechariah? How could Philo interpret him to be the firstborn son and Logos of God? Quite apart from Philo’s Platonic training in reading texts allegorically, the Book of Zechariah itself says that its Jesus is an allegory, a type, a foreshadowing of another figure:
Listen, O high priest Joshua [Jesus] and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, [Rises]. (Zech. 3:8 — other translations say “sign”. “Rises” has become a preferable translation to “Branch”)
This Jesus was also said in the same book to be symbolic of two burning lampstands fueled by olive oil.
And he saith, `These [are] the two sons of the oil [anointed ones], who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.’ (Zech. 4:14)
The word is not the same as “messiah” but it is surely suggestive.
The same Jesus was made “sin” and was rescued from the clutches of Satan to be glorified and rule:
And the Lord said to Satan: The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan: and the Lord that chose Jerusalem rebuke thee: Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
And Jesus was clothed with filthy garments: and he stood before the face of the angel.
Who answered, and said to them that stood before him, saying: Take away the filthy garments from him. And he said to him: Behold I have taken away thy iniquity, and have clothed thee with change of garments.
And he said: Put a clean mitre upon his head: and they put a clean mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments, and the angel of the Lord stood. (Zech. 3:2-5)
It is not the gospel story, but it is not hard to see it as an analogue of the crucified Jesus who was raised again.
Much more can be said and probably has been said in discussions that have escaped my notice.
Philo introduces his reflections on the heavenly firstborn Logos, a Jesus renamed Rises, or a Jesus who was a symbolic representation of the heavenly Rises, with this:
I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this . . . .
It sounds like Philo is referring to one of the many Jewish interpretations and speculations about the biblical figures that in this instance happened to support his primary theme.
It’s an interesting mix: we have persons in the bible narrative being interpreted as allegories; we have a Jesus who is said to be the Rises/Dawn Rising in Zechariah, in Philo and in the Gospel of Luke; he is the son of Josedec whom Spong and others have noted is close to “Joseph”; the same is said to be the firstborn Son of God and Logos (Word) with God from the beginning; there is also suggestion of this Jesus being an anointed one (messiah) and having been attacked by and rescued from Satan to be raised (from “below”) to glory.
A lot of interesting, if speculative at this point, stuff. What it shows is yet another set of passages that could have fed the ideas from which Christianity took root.
(Thanks to Robin Tulip to alerting me to this discussion on Larry Hurtado’s blog.)