Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 7: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel

Introduction

I’ll begin this post by acknowledging my debt to Earl Doherty. It was he who convinced me that the gospel Paul believed and preached was derived only from scripture and visions/revelations, and that it did not include a Son of God who lived a human life on earth. Doherty’s demonstration of those points in his The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man is, in my opinion, quite persuasive. And since some of his arguments for those contentions are available on Vridar (See part 19 of: Earl Doherty’s response to Bart Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?’), I see no need to argue them further here. For this post I take as my point of departure that Paul did not believe in a Son of God who had wandered about Galilee and Judaea teaching and preaching, exorcizing demons, working miracles, and gathering disciples.

What the Son did do, according to Paul, was descend from heaven, get crucified by the rulers of the world (1 Cor. 2:8), and then rise back to his celestial home. But where did he believe the Son’s crucifixion had occurred? And what was his belief regarding how that event procured salvation for the faithful? And was there a particular scripture that led him to his core beliefs about the Son?

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But where did he believe the Son’s crucifixion had occurred?

And what was his belief regarding how that event procured salvation for the faithful?

And was there a particular scripture that led him to his core beliefs about the Son?

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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo — Abraham and the Three Angels

My answers to these three questions are different from Doherty’s. He proposes that the crucifixion was believed to have taken place in “an unspecified spiritual dimension,” in a “dimension beyond earth,” or perhaps somewhere above the earth but below the moon (Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 112). But I think it was believed to have taken place in Judaea. I see the Son’s descent for crucifixion as being a limited particular task like those performed by disguised divine personages and angels who descended to earth in other Old Testament and intertestamental literature, e.g., the incognito visit by heavenly figures to Abraham and Lot; the angel Raphael’s incognito mission in Tobit.

In regard to Paul’s soteriology, Doherty holds that at least the seven so-called undisputed Pauline letters were largely the work of one man, and so he apparently finds ways to explain to his own satisfaction the presence of varying soteriological teaching in them. I, on the other hand, have a serious problem with their inconsistences and think, as I have explained in posts two through six, that they have been heavily interpolated. And so in the letters I would disentangle the rescue and redemption soteriology of Simon/Paul from the sacrifice and atonement soteriology of a proto-orthodox interpolator.

Finally, Doherty, as a prominent part of his argument for locating the Son’s crucifixion in a sublunary heaven, has recourse to the Vision of Isaiah, i.e., chapters 6 – 11 of the Ascension of Isaiah (see pp. 119 – 126 of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man). I too think the Vision of Isaiah is key for understanding Christian origins. In fact, I go further and argue that it—in its original version—was already in existence by 30 CE and was—more than any other writing—the source of Simon/Paul’s gospel. But I am not convinced that it located the Son’s crucifixion somewhere other than Judaea.

In this post and the next I am going to discuss the possibility that Simon/Paul derived his gospel initially from the Vision of Isaiah and that in its original form it possessed a Son of God who descended to Judaea for only a few hours.I suspect the Vision depicted a Son who, having repeatedly transfigured himself to descend undetected through the lower heavens, transfigured himself again upon arrival on earth so as to look like a man. Then, by means of yet another transfiguration, he surreptitiously switched places with a Jewish rebel who was being led away for crucifixion. All this was done by the Son in order to trick the rulers of this world into wrongfully killing him.

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Preliminaries

The Ascension of Isaiah is a composite work made up of at least two parts.

  • The first, which consists of chapters 1-5, is usually referred to as the Martyrdom of Isaiah.
  • The second, the Vision of Isaiah, consists of the remaining chapters and is known to have circulated independently.

The Martyrdom section itself is, in the opinion of many scholars, a composite work. It is thought that its oldest element (the story of Isaiah’s murder) is Jewish and that 3:13-4:22 is a Christian addition to it. Whoever made the insertion, however, did so with an awareness of the Vision, for “3:13 clearly alludes to chapters 6-11, and there are also a number of other links between 3:13-4:22 and the Vision” (M.A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth, p. 148). Finally, besides these three larger sections there are some short passages that may be the redactional work of the final editor who put the Ascension together.

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Chronologically the Jewish source of the Martyrdom would be the earliest component of the Ascension, and may go back “ultimately to the period of the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167-164 BC.” (Knibb. P. 149).

The latest component would be the 3:13-4:22 interpolation and, if it is also the work of the final redactor, probably dates sometime from the end of first century CE to the first decades of the second.

read more »

Rewriting the History of Modern China

dowagerHow history changes! At school I learned that nineteenth century China was easy-pickings for European powers who were able to easily kick aside her antiquated army and carve out for themselves “spheres of influence” for their own trading benefits as they willed. The most scandalous of these occasions were the Opium Wars in which Britain forced the Chinese imperial government to open up the Chinese populace to British merchants making a “killing” selling Indian opium.

Two reasons were always given for the ease with which Westerners were able to dominate China so easily:

  1. The Chinese felt so superior to the West, disdaining the “barbarians”, that they had no wish to learn from them or adopt any of their ways, not even their superior technology;
  2. The Chinese from the later nineteenth to the early twentieth century was effectively ruled by a Dowager Empress who was authoritarian yet weak and loathed Westerners and resisted any form of modernization.

Maybe those points need to be nuanced but that’s essentially how I recall my high school lessons of China before the Republican movement, the Japanese invasion and the Communist Revolution.

One thing always stood out: the Empress Dowager was bad news for China.

All that has been completely turned on its head since a new book by Jung Chang, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. The author writes with the benefit of documents released for the first time from Chinese and Japanese archives.

It turns out that far from being the brake on modernizing China the Empress Dowager was in fact the driving force behind modernization. At the time of her death she was even working towards establishing a Constitutional Monarchy that would have given millions of Chinese the right to vote. So much that I learned about pre-communist and pre-republican China has been completely turned on its head.

Among the reforms she was responsible for: read more »

Vridar Maintenance — Caution: Construction Zone

Watch your step

Loader in viaduct replacement construction zone

Loader in viaduct replacement construction zone (Photo credit: WSDOT)

Hey, everybody. I just wanted to warn you that at various points throughout the weekend, I’m going to be tinkering with the blog. We’ve been having quite a bit of trouble with WordPress performance, and it’s possible that the root cause is our antiquated “Rubric” theme.

So if you see Vridar with a new, strange skin, don’t panic. Don’t start thinking that some portly theology student has taken us down with another fraudulent DMCA claim.

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O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate the Christ Myth: #4, A False Dichotomy?

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.

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Tim O’Neill (TO) excoriates Dave Fitzgerald (DF) for

consistently depict[ing] the topic as some kind of starkly Manichaean conflict between Christian apologists on one hand and “critics who have disputed Christian claims” on the other (O’Neill 2011)

What’s more, he produces the evidence. It’s found in the “first pages” of Nailed. By “first pages” he does not mean the first two pages — he skips those, and for good reason, as we will see — but the third and fourth pages where he complains that DF mentions

evangelicals, conservative Christians and populist apologists like F.F. Bruce, R. Douglas Geivett and Josh McDowell in rapid succession. . .

So from the start Fitzgerald sets up an artificial dichotomy, with conservative apologists defending a traditional orthodox Jesus on one hand and brave “critics who (dispute) Christian claims” who don’t believe in any Jesus at all on the other. And nothing in between.

This is nonsense, because it ignores a vast middle ground of scholars – liberal Christian, Jewish, atheist and agnostic – who definitely “dispute Christian claims” but who also conclude that there was a human, Jewish, historical First Century preacher as the point of origin for the later stories of “Jesus Christ”. . . .

Most critical scholars have no time for the McDowell-style Jesus either, so the Jewish preacher they present as the historical Jesus behind the later gospel figure is left totally unscathed by Fitzgerald’s naive arguments. (O’Neill 2011)

That sounds pretty damning.

To anyone who has read Nailed, however, it sounds pretty confusing.

Confusing because anyone who read the first page would wonder what TO is talking about. Anyone who went on to read the second page would wonder why TO has chosen to ignore DF’s clear statement of purpose for the book. TO claims to be “reviewing” the work so it is astonishing by any standard that he makes no reference anywhere to the author’s clearly stated intentions.

One would also wonder why the “reviewer” failed to notice how DF presented “scholars” and “historians” throughout Nailed, in particular the way they are so very often depicted as holding positions opposed to those of most apologists and conservatives!

Before continuing, I have an apology to make. I promised to keep posts in this series down to around 1000 words. In this instance, however, in order to do justice to the claims of both TO and DF that is impossible.

So let’s begin. How does DF explain what the book is about and what its purpose is? Let’s start with the first two pages — the two pages TO overlooked.

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O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate #3, Are Most Biblical Historians Christian Preachers?

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.

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In Nailed David Fitzgerald (DF) wrote:

It’s true enough that the majority of Biblical historians do not question the historicity of Jesus – but then again, the majority of Biblical historians have always been Christian preachers, so what else could we expect them to say? (p. 16)

Tim O’Neill (TO) responded:

This is glib, but it is also too simplistic. Many scholars working in relevant fields may well be Christians (and a tiny few may even be “preachers” as he claims, though not many), but a great many are definitely not.

Leading scholars like Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Ludemann are all non-Christians. Then there are the Jewish scholars like Mark Nanos, Alan Segal, Jacob Neusner, Hyam Maccoby and Geza Vermes. Even those scholars who describe themselves as Christians often hold ideas about Jesus that few church-goers would recognise, let alone be comfortable with and which are nothing like the positions of people like Geivett and McDowell. Dale C. Allison, E P Sanders and John Dominic Crossan may all regard themselves as Christians, but I doubt Josh McDowell would agree, given their highly non-orthodox ideas about the historical Jesus. (O’Neill 2011)

DF answered:

read more »

The Brodie Files: Beyond the Quest Posts on Vridar

One reader asked for an easier way to review the various posts on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. So here it is. Posts directly dealing with a chapter by chapter overview of the book, those in the “Making of a Mythicist” series, are in bold font. Other posts in which the same book had a key focus are right-aligned. All are in chronological order of posting.

I have not included here several other posts on Brodie’s ideas that have been posted on this blog. These can be found through the “Index of Topics / Select a Category” button in the right hand margin.

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“Jesus did not exist as an historical individual”: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Quest for History: Rule One — from Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Mythicism and Positive Christianity

Thomas Brodie’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

Sowing Doubt That An Emotional Paul Authored Galatians

What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See?

Questioning Paul’s Letters. Were they really “occasional”? Or rhetorical fictions?

The Inevitable Catches Up With Thomas L. Brodie

Thomas L. Brodie: Two Core Problems with Historical Jesus Arguments

What They Are Saying About The Brodie Affair

1. The Making of a Mythicist, Act 1, Scene 1 (Thomas Brodie’s Odyssey)

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2. Making of a Mythicist, Act 1, Scene 2

McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest?

Ongoing Disregard for Facts and Denials of Old Criticisms (yes, McGrath again, sorry)

Brodie’s Argument that Jesus Never Existed

What Do We Mean by “Incompetent”?

Joel Watts Acclaims Thomas Brodie a Scholarly “Giant” and His Work “A Masterpiece”

3. Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 1 (Brodie’s Odyssey)

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4. Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 2 (The Verdict Falls)

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5. Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 3 (“That is an important thesis”)

Brodie’s Mythicist Case: The Facts

6. Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 1 (Too Strange!)

Thomas Brodie Illustrates The New Testament’s Dependence On the Old

Parallels, Drum Majorettes and Brodie

7. Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 2 (Discovering the Crucial Bridge) — With a note on “Parallelomania”

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8. Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 3 (“It is original, but not off the wall”)

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9. Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 4 (The Dominican Biblical Institute, and its Research)

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10. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 1 (“We need a gentle funeral”)

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11. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 2 (“What Is Rule One?”)

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12. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 3 (Deeps Below, Storms Ahead)

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13. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 4 (The Crumbling Evidence for Paul)

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14. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 5 (How Paul Was Made)

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15. Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 6 (Two Key Problems with Historical Jesus Studies)

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16. Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . Unreliable Criteria

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17. Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . Did Jesus Model Himself on Elijah?

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18. Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . Was Jesus a Carpenter?

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19. Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . The Evidence of Josephus

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20. Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . Jesus in Greco-Roman Sources & General Conclusions

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21. Making of a Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 1 (Explaining Christian Origins Without Jesus)

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22. Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 2 (Staying Christian With a Symbolic Jesus)

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23. Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 3 (What Christianity Can Mean If Jesus Did Not Exist)

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24. Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 4 (To Believe Or Not To Believe the Parable) — Conclusion

Theology and the Historical Jesus

Theology and the Historical Jesus

Peter Kirby has posted thoughts on the meaning of the question of the historical Jesus for Christian theology: see  Theology and the Historical Jesus. What he writes dovetails with recent posts here explaining why Thomas Brodie believes Christianity can and should thrive with a Jesus figure who stands beyond history. Peter shows Brodie is not alone in this view. He goes further, however, introducing readers to what the question means from different faith/theological perspectives.

 

O’Neill-Fitzgerald Christ-Myth Debate; #2, Point of Agreement

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.

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The Ambiguity and Difficulty of the Evidence

Tim O’Neill in his initial review:

No-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. This, of course, merely means the idea he did not exist is simply valid, not that it’s true. (O’Neill 2011)

Dave Fitgerald’s response:

So much of what I argue should not sound controversial. O’Neill admits as much when he dismisses Myth No. 1 (“The idea that Jesus was a myth is ridiculous!”) as “not really controversial” and that: “After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence.” He and I are in almost in perfect agreement here. (Fitzgerald, 2012)

In the following series of posts it might be worth keeping this little exchange in view.

Which one of the debaters does in reality concede that any point relating to the historical existence of Jesus might indeed by “ambiguous” or “difficult to interpret with any certainty”.

In the following post we will see TO accuse DF of framing the debate in a black and white manner, but readers should note the ensuing exchange and decide which of the contestants is taking a dogmatic stance and denying any possibility of ambiguity or “uncertain interpretation” in the evidence under discussion.

 

 

The O’Neill–Fitzgerald Debate over the Christ Myth: Round 1, the Agenda

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate.

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I don’t imagine very many people interested in the debate over the historical existence of Jesus would have the time to read Tim O’Neill’s 12,000+ word response David Fitzgerald’s response (10,000 words) to Tim O’Neill’s review (7,500 words) of David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All. Even fewer interested readers, I am sure, would have the time to stop and compare each of O’Neill’s points with its related Ftizgerald passage. However, it is only by comparing point by point claim and counter-claim that one can make a fair assessment of the validity of each of O’Neill’s responses.

Well, it has been a very quiet set of rainy days here so I have had time to set out the three articles side by side in columns and colour-code the matching sections of the discussion. So that makes it a little easier for me to follow and evaluate the arguments that have spanned tens of thousands of words and two full years.

But I promise I will not attempt to cover it all in a single post. I’ll do it in small chunks — I really will try to keep every post to around 1000 words — one point at a time.

I will attempt throughout these posts to censor O’Neill’s language to make it fit for readers who prefer exchanges to be civil and respectful in tone. And as usual all bolded font is my own emphasis. I’ll be adding my own perspective from time to time, too.

The Agenda!

One of the first points O’Neill made against Fitzgerald was that he represents a group of Christ Myth theorists who are driven by a desire to undermine Christianity. read more »

Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 4 (To Believe Or Not To Believe the Parable) — Conclusion

brodie3Brodie’s final chapter* is essentially an attempt to justify religious faith or belief. How can one believe in the New Testament (or God)? (This is the final post on this book: the complete series is archived here.)

He begins by suggesting it is quite possible to believe the New Testament’s message “as a parable”. One can “believe a parable”, he writes. He means that one can believe that its story conveys “an ultimate truth”. The details of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son stories are not true but “we believe” their message. One can even accrue some reassurance from reflecting upon all the witnesses of countless others who have believed through the ages.

Recall John Dominic Crossan’s The Power of Parable: How Fiction By Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus. As pointed out here over three posts Crossan argues that the Gospels are not historical reports but theological “parables” about the meaning of Jesus. One may wonder if he is stretching the meaning of “parable” to breaking point, but larger argument is really not very distant from Brodie’s. Naturally readers will ask themselves whether Jesus himself is a parable if all the stories about him are parables, so Crossan reassures readers that yes, Jesus was historical nonetheless. Indeed, it was his remarkable character that inspired all the parables about him. John Shelby Spong argues the same (Liberating the Gospels and Jesus for the Nonreligious). No doubt Crossan and Spong are not the only scholars to have settled upon such a view.

Virtually all the stories about Jesus are judged to be adaptations of Old Testament narratives in the judgment of Crossan and Spong (not too far from Brodie’s own argument) but Jesus himself was real. Jesus is real even though he is the central character of “parables” and “theological fictions” and his own name is itself a pun on his role in those “Gospel myths”.

Unlike Crossan and Spong, Brodie has concluded that the character Jesus is just as “parabolic” as any other person in the Gospels. (Even the historical Pilate was turned into a fictional character of “parable” in order to fit the theological agendas of the different evangelists.) In the same sense that he can “believe” the parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son he can “believe” the parable of Jesus Christ.

What good is Reason?

Brodie acknowledges the “struggle” many have with believing in a deity or spiritual dimension and this leads him into a discussion of belief and reason. Of course we know reason alone is not enough to create a good society, but Brodie appears to assume that what is missing is a spiritual dimension. For Brodie, the big questions revolve around reason and belief. read more »

A Christmas Thought

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http://www.snorgtees.com/t-shirts/abstinence-99-99-effective

From http://www.snorgtees.com/t-shirts/abstinence-99-99-effective

Luke’s “Ahistorical” Widows, Hellenists and Deacons

The most important thing we need to know when reading any book is what kind of work it is. Is Luke’s Acts history or novel? If it is history, what sort of history? Above all, what did “history” mean to writers/readers in the Roman world of the first and second centuries CE?

InPraiseChnOrigns2Todd Penner, Professor of Religious Studies at Austin University, has written a richly informative study of historiographical writing in antiquity as it is relevant to our appreciation of Acts, in particular to Luke’s account of Stephen and the Hellenists, Acts 6:1-8:3. This is the section most scholars of Christian origins consider historical at some level. Usually they suspect Luke was attempting to cover-up real events of unsavory divisions within the early church. Penner has a different perspective. Those little details that other scholars see as evidence of a cover-up Penner sees as quite coherent contributions toward Luke’s larger literary and theological narrative. But other scholars have generally not read Acts with any significant understanding of its literary character and have accordingly misread literary sails as archaeological trowels. Penner’s book is In Praise of Christian Origins:

There is nothing in Acts 7 to suggest that there lies behind them anything but an adept ancient writer, someone extremely well-versed in Jewish traditions and styles of rewriting the biblical story.

The narrative portions of Acts 6:1-8:3 leave one with the same impression.

Could the narrative portions be historically accurate and true? Absolutely. Could they be completely fabricated? Absolutely. Could the truth rest somewhere in between? Absolutely.

The problem, of course, is that it is impossible to prove any of these premises.

Attempts by Hengel and others to intuit their way behind the stories aside, the unit is too tightly knit to allow one to go beyond what is given in the narrative itself. If the dominant view in Acts scholarship is that one can separate out the core historical events from the Lukan redaction, this study argues for the futility of such attempts. (In Praise of Christian Origins, pp. 331-332, my formatting)

Acts 6 opens with a problem in the church. Some of the widows are being neglected. read more »

Richard Dawkins – Appetite for Wonder

As if on cue — given some recent discussion and a significant point of my previous post . . . .

 

HT ICH . . . .

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Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 3 (What Christianity Can Mean If Jesus Did Not Exist)

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailContinuing the series on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, archived here.

This post addresses the next to last chapter. It gives Brodie’s answer to the question:

What can a Christian still believe in if Jesus never existed but was entirely a literary-theological creation?

In Thomas Brodie’s view Jesus was an imaginative literary creation of the New Testament writers. But that does not lessen his religious and spiritual significance for anyone who believes in and seeks to deepen their understanding of God. The Jesus figure was “not a petty literary exercise” but a vehicle for a new revelation or vision of the nature of God. Not just one but several people contributed their own inspirations to what this figure represented and that’s why we have diverse views of Jesus in the New Testament writings.

The name “Jesus” was the natural one given that it is the Greek form of the name of Moses’ successor, Joshua. He encapsulated a new understanding of God that succeeded the Mosaic revelation. He emulated and surpassed the old figures of Moses, Elijah, the Anointed One (Christ) and, being identified with the Yahweh of old, widened and deepened “for all time” the believer’s vision of the nature of God.

Brodie’s conceptualization of this vision of Jesus as “the heart of reality . . . the measure of reality; and . . . the enigmatic form of reality — shadowed beauty” surpasses my own naturalistic comprehension and view of reality so I can only leave it to those more mystically minded than I to read Brodie’s explanation for themselves. (Brodie himself says he does “not have a clear sense of what Jesus Christ means”, so I suspect I should not feel embarrassed for failing to understand some of his attempts to explain.) I think I can grasp some of the details, however.

(Moreover, hopefully word will leak out of this further evidence that I am not interested in “attacking” religion or anyone’s sincere religious beliefs. It is the blatant hypocrisy, snobbery and intellectual dishonesty of a handful of Bible scholars and students that I have derided.)

Brodie might complain that I attempt to reduce the points to comprehensible brevity here and miss the “inexpressible” nature of what he wishes to express, but I will object to Brodie’s failure to comprehend the alternative vision of reality as found among the likes of naturalists like Dawkins (whom he appears either to have had no interest in reading for himself or to have misunderstood). I hope to give a reasonably fair idea of Brodie’s position here, however brief.

Symbol of “Heart of Reality”

Christ died for our sins and rose to save us:

These words are beyond full comprehension (how does someone’s death actually redeem others from sins?) but they convey “a vision of reconciliation with fresh strength and clarity, so fresh that the revealing of the figure of Christ brings creation to a new level and inaugurates a new covenant. . . . It brings life to a new level.

The idea of reconciliation with the divine is itself old. Contrast the Christ method with one of its earliest images, that of God “repenting” or “regretting” having wiped out all sinners in a great flood. read more »