2015-02-08

Evidence for a Pre-Christian “Christianity”?

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by Neil Godfrey

spiritpossession

Professor Stevan Davies has re-published his book Jesus the Healer under a new and probably more appropriate title, Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity, a new introduction on the pentecostal origins of the Christian movement (including an account for comparative purposes of the origins of modern pentecostalism since 1906) and added a couple of chapters on the possible evidence that Christianity emerged out of a form of Judaism we find expressed in the Odes of Solomon. Although some scholars have seen these poems as having been influenced by Christianity Davies argues for the traditional view that they are pre-Christian. And if pre-Christian, they are evidence of beliefs held by certain Jews that eventually had a profound influence on Christianity.

Scholars today (Charlesworth, Lattke) have dated the Odes to around 125 CE, at “the overlap of early Judaism, early Gnosticism and early Christianity.” Davies argues with others (e.g. Jack Sanders) that they influenced Christianity rather than the reverse and that they date from the period 50 – 25 BCE.

Western Syria (which includes the region of Galilee) is the most likely place of their origin.

It should be, but often is not, obvious that there were cultural influences on Galilee, and Samaria, and even Judea that come from the north, from Syria, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Antioch, influences on Judaism that were not Judean in origin. (p. 260)

Distinctive features 

While the Odes speak of a Christ figure they convey no hint of any awareness of a Jesus. If we define them as “Christian” they are of a quite different type of Christianity we read about in the New Testament.

Their Christ figure is a human who becomes Christ and who has no particular historical identity.

The Odes share vocabulary and phrases that appear in early Christian documents but the ideas conveyed by these shared expressions are quite unlike anything we associate with Christianity.

They do not mention

  • forgiveness
  • atonement
  • sin
  • resurrection
  • ascension
  • baptism
  • eucharist
  • the name of Jesus
  • any sayings of Jesus
  • any event in the life of Jesus
  • cross or crucifixion

The word “cross” supposedly appears twice in the Odes of Solomon (Odes 27 and 42), but only when translators such as Charlesworth take the Syriac (qaysa) or Greek (xylon), the word for tree or wood and translate it as “cross.” Less tendentious translators do not do this. . . .

Davies suggests that those passages should probably be translated to convey the image of a suppliant stretching his arms upward in prayer like tree branches. They do not depict arms stretched out as if on a cross.

The Odes do remind us of the Gospels with their references to:

  • a virgin and a virgin birth
  • a dove fluttering above the Messiah

But notice how unlike the ideas found in the Gospels these expressions are:

Ode 19

4 The Holy Spirit opened his bosom and mingled the milk of the two breasts of the Father,
5 And gave the mixture to the world without their knowing, and those who take (it) are in the fullness of the right hand.
6 The womb of the virgin took (it) And she received conception and brought forth
7 And the virgin became a mother with great mercy.
8 She was in labor and brought forth a Son without incurring pain, for it did not happen without purpose.
9 She had not required a midwife, for he delivered her.
10 And she brought forth, as a man, by (God’s) will . . . 

Odes 33

5 A perfect virgin stood proclaiming and crying and saying,
6 “O you sons of men, return, and you their daughters, come;
7 Leave the ways of that corruptor, and draw near to me
8 And I will enter into you and bring you forth from destruction, and I will make you wise in the ways of truth.

And the dove’s appearance is difficult to reconcile with the Gospel portrayal of the dove descending upon Jesus at his baptism:

Ode 24

1 The dove flew over the head of our Lord the Messiah, because he was her head
2 And she sang over him, and her voice was heard,
3 And the inhabitants were afraid, and the sojourners trembled.
4 Birds took to flight, and all creeping things died in their holes.
5 The abysses were opened and closed. They were seeking for the Lord, like (women) in labor.

Ode 28

1 As the wings of doves over their nestlings and the mouths of their nestlings towards their parents mouths, so also are the wings of the Spirit over my heart.
2 My heart is delighted and leaps up, like the babe who leaps up in the womb of his mother.

The Odes agree with conventional Judaism in their view that God created the world out of his goodness. There is no hint of a gnostic pre-cosmic fall or a cosmic dualism. Humanity, however, suffers and needs to be rescued; this is accomplished through gnosis or knowledge of God.

The speaker, from son of man to Christ

While the Odes have been understood as confusing exchanges between different speakers, one human and the other divine, Davies agrees with other scholars who see no reason to insert separate speakers into the translations. Much simpler and more straightforward, he says, is to read them as

one person speaking who has been transformed from human to divine, a person in whom dwells God’s immortal life who becomes a savior with a people whom he has saved. Presumably those who are saved are now in the same condition he is, once captives but now in freedom. (p. 252, my bolding)

Davies believes the experience behind the Odes is one of “spirit possession”, or what we commonly think of as charismatic, pentecostal or glossolalia experiences.

If the Odes derive from a kind of possession experience, then the odists will understand themselves sometimes to be speaking as the possessing divine entity and sometimes as themselves. Insofar as they have become a Spirit, they can speak sometimes as themselves transformed and sometimes as the Spirit within them. Speaking as Spirit, for example, the Odist speaks of descent, of arrival in this world from a world beyond this world. Speaking as a human merged with Spirit, the Odist speaks of ascent, of arrival in the paradise beyond this world, of becoming a divine person. (p. 254)

In this way the human speaker, a son of man, becomes possessed by the Spirit of the Lord, and like other Jewish mystics experiences an ascent to the presence of God and becomes transformed into the Son of God, a divine being in a heavenly world.

The speaker, now the Son of God, is also anointed, and is thus technically a Christ or a Messiah (Greek and Hebrew words meaning ‘anointed’). As the Son of God or Messiah the speaker has escaped the prison of the world, has escaped death or been brought back from the grave (Sheol), and once liberated is destined to act as an ideal example for his spiritual colleagues.

The Odes of Solomon present a “saved savior” model such that potentially any and all human beings can receive the Spirit, ascend to the place of God, and be transformed into a Son of God to serve as a model so as to facilitate the saving transformation of others. . . . 

The idea that the Odist and Christ are two separate persons ismistaken. The Odes speak of the transformation of the speaker (the “Odist”) into the one spoken about (“ Christ”). (p. 257)

The New Testament Christological Hymns:

  • Philippians 2:6-11;
  • Colossians 1:15-20;
  • Ephesians 2:14-16;
  • 1 Timothy 3:16;
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22;
  • Hebrews 1:3;
  • Prologue of the Gospel of John

Jack Sanders in The New Testament Christological Hymns: Their Historical Background (discussed by Davies) concludes on the basis of similar concepts in the New Testament that they derived from pre-Christian myths in Judaism of redeemer figures (Wisdom, Word, Heavenly Man) in which the divine figure was equal with God but at the same time entered into human existence and identified with humanity for the purpose of revealing the way of salvation.

In his analysis of the Odes of Solomon Sanders concluded that redeemer myth of the Odes appeared in some ways to be more primitive than the New Testament Christological hymns.

Sanders also suggests that the Odes betray influence of the Syrian redeemer myth of Adonis. Recall Ezekiel’s protest against Jews who incorporated the worship of Adonis, also known as Tammuz or simply “Lord”.

[T]he Odes of Solomon seem to attest that Judaism could, under some outside influence, give birth to at least one myth of redemption similar to that displayed in the New Testament Christological humans, and yet apparently independent of the New Testament tradition.” Looking to the north, as Sanders did, will remind us of the fact that the people of Judea, and much more so the people of Galilee were influenced by a host of different religious ideas and systems. (p. 261)

But this point leads to a much deeper discussion of Second Temple Jewish mysticism that I am unable to address here.

From the Odes to Christianity

Davies is not arguing that the New Testament authors read the Odes of Solomon or that they consciously wove their concepts into the Gospels and epistles. The point is that the community behind the Odes preceded Christianity and influenced its theology.

Davies argues that it was quite likely that the group Paul persecuted before his conversion was the Odes community. Several factors lead him to this conclusion. One of these is that there is too little time between the death of Jesus and Paul’s conversion (possibly as little as one year but no more than five) for a Jesus church to become established and then spread out from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Galilee and to Damascus and perhaps Arabia while attracting such opposition that it occasioned violent persecution.

It is more likely that the communities Paul was persecuting had been in existence for some years and therefore originated prior to Jesus.

Paul wrote in Galatians that it was recognized he preached the faith that he had once attempted to destroy, and Davies identifies several correspondences between the teachings of Paul and what we read in the Odes. Paul, too, claimed to be filled with signs of the Spirit of God and declared that Christ lived in him, freeing him from his body of flesh.

The Odes, meanwhile, speak of their members being persecuted. So Paul’s career as a persecutor fits.

I have my own doubts about Davies’ arguments linking Paul to the Odes community. The Odes also speak of the persecutors being killed.

Ode 23

20 And all of the apostates became bold and fled away, and the persecutors were blotted out and became extinct.

Ode 42

5 All my persecutors have died, those who sought after me and who proclaimed about me, because I am alive.

More fundamentally, however, Davies’ argument rests on major unaddressed assumptions about his source texts. As a professor specializing in Old Testament history recently pointed out, the most fundamental step of the historian’s craft is source criticism:

Source criticism. It is the alpha and the omega of an historian’s craft. Then we can put everything else on top of that. . . . [It] has been a must in historical research since the days of Barthold Niebuhr c. 1810.

The entire basis for the belief that Paul in fact persecuted churches before his Damascus Road experience rests upon

One may argue against the evidence of genre and other literary clues in the source texts but one will not be able to overthrow the potential for dispute. The story of Paul the persecutor is not secure historical fact.

It is this failure to address the questions of source criticism that unfortunately detracts from significant points of the remainder of Davies’ arguments about Christian origins. At a general level his thesis about Christianity originating as a charismatic sect has much to commend it but it is going farther than the evidence truly allows to get down to the level of specifics (e.g. that the glossolalia experiences began on Pentecost according to Acts, etc.) that Davies writes about.

Having read Davies’ chapters on the Odes of Solomon I would now like to read more carefully Jack T. Sanders’ work on the Christological Hymns and Sanders’ identification of links with the Odes. I have for a little time now been exploring Jewish mysticism and pre-Christian and other Second Temple Jewish ideas that appear to be close parallels to fundamental Christian ideas and it is intriguing to think of the Odes as another set of texts to be considered in this context.

I’ll conclude on one more coincidental note. The Gospel of Mark tells us about Jesus walking on water as his disciples struggle against a strong wind and rising waves. When they see Jesus they at first fear he is a ghost. Some commentators have seen Mark’s inspiration for this in a Psalm where God has power over the seas and one has compared the scene to Greek gods running across the oceans to their destinations. But here is one of the Odes of Solomon:

Ode 39

8 Put on, therefore, the name of the Most High and know him, and you shall cross without danger, while the rivers shall be subject to you.
9 The Lord has bridged them by his word, and he walked and crossed them on foot.
10 His footsteps stand (firm) on the waters, and were not erased. They are as a beam that is firmly fixed.
11 The waves were lifted up on this side and on that, and the footsteps of our Lord Messiah stand (firm),
12 And are not obliterated, and are not defaced.
13 A way has been appointed for those who cross after him, and for those who agree to the course of his faith and for those who adore his name.
Hallelujah.

Translations of the Odes can be found online at the Gnostic Society Library and at the Early Christian Writings site.

17 Comments

  • Geo
    2015-02-08 18:34:21 UTC - 18:34 | Permalink

    Great points and I agree with nearly everything that you’ve said about this book except that it is a re-published Jesus the Healer. I was very impressed by that book and, though it’s been a few years since I read it, I’m pretty sure that Spirit Possession is not that book. My impression of it was that, having established and anthropological framework in Jesus the Healer, Davies has now taken the possession aspect of it and expanded on its theological implications (a little too much for my tastes, actually).

    I agree that his idea of a pre-Jesus Christianity is intriguing. His analysis of the fundamental teachings of Jesus was so glaringly obvious in hindsight that I kicked myself several times. His incorporation of the Odes of Solomon (a work that I had independently decided was not strictly christian) into the overall idea of a pre-Jesus Christianity is fascinating.

    On the other hand, I was constantly distracted by two elements that threaded through his thesis.

    One was that Jesus was unique in his ability to coerce crowds into mass visionary experiences. One only need look at the information that we have on the Bacchae and from modern day ecstatic cults around the world (which he cited in Jesus) to know that this was probably not unique. He may have had a legitimate point in his argument that I missed but I would have assigned the influence of an historic Jesus to right place / right time.

    The other point was that he seemed to base a lot of his arguments around a harmonized version of the NT. Maybe that was just a simplification but I was constantly confronted by arguments that jumped from one NT book to another without stopping to consider if they could even be historically or theologically related.

    Still, this book is a powerful argument that there are aspects of Early Christianity that we have yet to explore and I have to give it 4 of 5 stars.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-02-08 21:02:58 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

      It is a long time since I read Jesus the Healer and while reading the new book I even said to someone who asked the same thing as you: that it is not a republishing of that first book. But the chapters are identical, their first opening and closing paragraphs are identical, but the book is expanded with the final chapters on the Odes and also a new Introduction. I have since corrected my post to refer to the Introduction, too. Certainly the Intro does orient the readers mind away from healing per se and to look more comprehensively as the spirit possession theme.

      On the BC&H forum I posed the following question:

      Stevan Davies in Spirit Possession and the Origin of Christianity argues that Jesus began his career as a spirit possessed healer and exorcist, attracted a following of others susceptible to the same sort of spirit possession (involving “pentecostal” experiences), and that after his death, 50 days after his death to be precise (Acts 2), these followers themselves experienced the same state of possession/alternative consciousness.

      Their conclusion was that Jesus must have sent his own gift to them from heaven; therefore Jesus was still alive. He must have risen from the dead. After all, half a day after his body was placed temporarily in a wealthy person’s tomb it was no longer found there.

      That, I think, in a nutshell is Davies’ theory. . . .

      Davies’ refers to the famous beginnings of modern pentecostalism initiated by William Seymour.

      Coincidentally I have been reading James Hanges who argues something quite similar in relation to Paul. He also draws upon the Seymour history. But the difference with Davies’ theory is that the followers of Paul also shared the ecstatic experiences under his leadership, or even preceded Paul with their gift.

      My question is this: What instances are there of a spirit possessed charismatic or glossolalist who attracts followers who do not share his gift the whole time they are with him/her but only do so for the first time only after they lose contact?

      I think you are spot on when you see Davies’ effort as fundamentally an exercise in harmonization. He of course would say that he is taking into account “all of the evidence” — but source criticism must surely be applied first to understand what exactly is the nature of the material we are dealing with. Unfortunately I’m not sure Davies would fully accept my own views on this (even if they are informed by a minority of other biblical scholars) and say I am being nihilistic, reductionist to the point where we can know nothing at all.

      I think Hanges has it more right on this aspect than Davies.

  • 2015-02-08 20:03:03 UTC - 20:03 | Permalink

    Odes of Solomon reads more like it comes from a Valentinian author or group.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-02-08 21:14:22 UTC - 21:14 | Permalink

      You will be interested in Davies’ reference to gnosticism and Valentinian views in relation to the Odes. He writes:

      The Odes of Solomon are not Gnostic insofar as they do not argue for a cosmic dualism separating a perfect One from a fallen world, and they are in agreement with the standard Jewish view that God created this world out of his benevolence; there is no myth of the pre-cosmic fall of God or of God’s Sophia, who then needs to be rescued by gnosis from this fallen or illusory world. Despite the absence of Gnostic cosmology, a myth of rescue is clearly present throughout the Odes of Solomon. Human beings are enslaved or enchained in a prison existence wherein they are persecuted and in need of rescue. Rescue comes, at least from one of the Odes’ metaphorical perspectives, from gnosis. This is most clear in Ode 17, which shows remarkable kinship to Gnostic ideas, although it does not presuppose a Gnostic myth of origins. Michael Lattke’s translation of 17: 7-9a reads,

      “And he who knew me made me great, the Most High in his complete pleroma. And he glorified me by his benevolence and lifted up my gnosis to the height of Truth. And thence he gave me the way of his steps. And I opened the gates that were shut, and broke the bars of iron.”

      There is a particularly significant connection between one of the greatest Gnostic works, the Gospel of Truth (perhaps written by Valentinus himself) and Ode 7: 20-21. In the Ode we hear (Lattke’s translation),

      “hatred will be lifted from the earth and be submerged together with jealousy. For non-gnosis has been destroyed, because the gnosis of the Lord has come.”

      The fundamental and reiterated theme of the Gospel of Truth is that when gnosis comes, illusion disappears: e.g.

      “but what comes into existence in him is knowledge, which appeared in order that oblivion might vanish and the Father might be known. Since oblivion came into existence because the Father was not known, then if the Father comes to be known, oblivion will not exist from that moment on.”

      This is a remarkable similarity of ideas. While the problem the Odes of Solomon addresses is not formulated in terms of the Gnostic myth, the solution offered by the Odes is shared with Gnosticism. (pp. 246-247, my formatting)

      So Davies (like J.T. Sanders) sees the Odes as prior to both the Christianity of the NT and that of the gnostics.

  • pearl
    2015-02-08 23:41:03 UTC - 23:41 | Permalink

    Yes, there is a remarkable similarity of ideas. The Odes were amenable to use with the later, more fully developed Pistis Sophia. From the link you gave to the Gnostic Society Library: “Five were translated into Coptic in the 4th century and used to illustrate the Pistis Sophia (Odes Sol. 1, 5, 6, 22, and 25).” Also interesting is a possible connection mentioned between Paul and the Odes community. Certainly, Paul’s letters were subject to Valentinian exegesis.

    Importantly, although we possibly see the Odes influencing both gnostics and Christianity of the NT, Davies makes a point worth noting: “While the problem the Odes of Solomon addresses is not formulated in terms of the Gnostic myth, the solution offered by the Odes is shared with Gnosticism.” In other words, although differences in cosmology exist, cosmology isn’t everything. Means of salvation (“rescue”) for gnostics comes from emphasis on gnosis, not faith (NT Christianity), an indispensable, defining characteristic.

  • Bob Moore
    2015-02-09 15:45:36 UTC - 15:45 | Permalink

    Ode 39 could be suggesting un-erased footprints in a wave-washed beach. I’ve long thought it significant that Mark’s reference was to Jesus walking specifically on the “Sea” while subsequent Gospels turn it into walking on “water”.

  • David Ashton
    2015-02-12 23:27:12 UTC - 23:27 | Permalink

    Early Christians refer to frequent successful post-apostolic demonic exorcisms. It is unlikely that these claims were entirely false or imaginary, and magical extras like oils or drugs do not seem to have been used. We cannot get in a time machine, but it is worth asking what we could be dealing with here, not just the various types of mental disorder or delusion, but the efficacy of cures by reassurance, command, hypnosis or whatever. Recent modern studies of exorcism (e.g. F. D. Goodman) seem rather slim in answer to this last question, unless I have missed something important (not difficult, even with numerous needles in the giant haystack).

    • Geoffrey
      2015-02-13 00:48:35 UTC - 00:48 | Permalink

      I think that I’ll have to disagree on your point about oils and drugs. From my look into various source materials from the time (especially the Greek Magical Papyri), I’d suggest that drugs were used a lot more than was mentioned. The hints in the PGM suggest that a lot of it was lost, coded, or left out for legal reasons but it does seem to have been there, especially in the “strong wine” of the time.

      My impression is that much of it was (as Davies suggested) like modern Pentacostalism or Buddhism and did not have to involve drugs but might have as drug use may have been present among the jewish prophets and gentile mystics. Mention of its use, even hints of it, would have been suppressed in the writing of accounts either as unimportant or as damaging to the authority of the Holy Spirit. This is a cycle that we’ve seen throughout history. As religious authority develops, it works hard to control visions and prophecies lest a powerful splinter group develop from demonstrable trance behavior.

  • David Ashton
    2015-02-13 11:14:53 UTC - 11:14 | Permalink

    Your point about suppression is well taken, especially with the NT; cf. Morton Smith & Graham Twelftree. I am still puzzled by the apparent success of exorcisms, particularly if the symptoms of possession are actual medical conditions underlying the “cultural” demonic assumptions of the victims and exorcists alike.

    Hearsay anecdotes prove nothing, but I would mention just the one case I heard about from an erudite teaching colleague, the late Rev Vivian Symons (famous for building his own church). He told me that a pupil had exhibited bizarre behavior after playing with an Ouija board. He took him privately into the school hall and tried the little used Church of England exorcism ritual, which apparently resolved the situation; he told me that during the process which entailed gripping the “victim” he experienced painful flows like electric currents coming up his forearms. Some faith healing has been explained by the synchronized transmission of brain waves.

    • Geoffrey
      2015-02-13 15:15:38 UTC - 15:15 | Permalink

      I don’t think that the successes were any more spectacular than what one sees in the faith healing “marketplace” today (and I’m including all religions in this). The healers fudge their successes (such as helping a person walk when he / she is there for cancer). The healees fudge their problems (getting caught up in the energy of the crowds). We all tend to remember the successes, forget the failures, and don’t bother to follow up on the consequences of the healings. We also have to keep in mind that, to these people, the difference between spirit possession and disease was fuzzy at best and non-existent at worst. That means that they expressed their symptoms differently and reacted to exorcisms differently than we might today.

      That is why I can’t help but side with Davies’ conjecture in “Jesus, the Healer” that many possessions were part of the social medium by which the oppressed were able to get themselves heard and, sometimes, gain a small amount of power and prestige. Basically, having someone listen to them and express confirmation of their position and personhood was what drove many of the exorcisms. I don’t know what the reverend Symons conversation with that boy entailed but it wouldn’t be the first time that a teenager played with “occultism” to get someone to listen to what he / she had to say. I would contend that the exorcism was not what “healed” the boy but, in a very real sense, the contract between the two of them that the boy had been heard and would move on with his life.

  • Stevan Davies
    2015-02-20 16:52:18 UTC - 16:52 | Permalink

    Hi folks.
    My editor pointed me to your discussion and I’ve found it very interesting. I’d like to respond but I’m not sure what to respond to. One clarification: the new book is the Jesus the Healer book in its entirety with almost exactly 1/3 new material added. The new material re-enforces the argument that the rise of Christianity is basically due to Pentecost rather than to any teachings of Jesus or spread of reports of his walking around with his disciples post-mortem. Also the new material argues that the Odes of Solomon pre-date Christianity and thus all of the arrows of connection and causality between those texts and the NT texts should be reversed. How exactly to conceive of the connection between Paul, or Pre-Paul churches, or Jesus himself and the Odes… all I can say is that I gave it a good try.

    • Geoffrey
      2015-02-20 22:27:19 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

      I guess that I felt the book had a very different feel to it than “Jesus, the Healer”. In that book, I felt that you did a marvelous job of integrating current research into Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) and the psychology behind them into a better understanding of biblical (and other) possession phenomena. In this book, I thought that a lot of this focus was re-directed as you ventured off into exploring how ASC could account for much of what we think we know about early Christianity. That was why I had thought the books very different.

      Anyway, thank you for both books. My copy of the “Odes” in the back of your book is now littered with cross-references and thoughts as how to how to incorporate you fairly novel analysis of the “Odes” and early pre-Christianity into my own book on shamanism in the OT. Although my manuscript mentions Jesus a little bit (kind of moving out of my time-period of interest), I do bring up the exorcism aspect of Jesus and tell people that “Jesus, the Healer” does a much better job explaining it than I could.

      • Stevan Davies
        2015-02-21 03:24:04 UTC - 03:24 | Permalink

        Somebody once declared that any effort to understand the Historical Jesus necessarily had to account for the fact that he was crucified. That’s so, although it’s not so difficult. Declaring an oracle that a kingdom of a Judean god was going to happen soon would be enough.

        I declare that any theory of the Historical Jesus has to account for the fact that a whole big successful socio-cultural movement came into being… Christianity. Something really attractive must have been offered to all of those peasants and women and gentiles and so forth who signed up. Certainly not some sort of apocalyptic vision of a new Galilean king of the Judeans taking over as the stars fall from the sky and virtually everybody dies [cf. Day of the Son of Man etc.]. Also not the notion that a guy came back to life and walked around with his folk for awhile. And… for mythicists… the same question. What do you presume gave rise to the successful spread of Christianity?
        SD

        • Geoffrey Tolle
          2015-02-21 04:02:51 UTC - 04:02 | Permalink

          Speaking as one mythicist among many divergent mythicists, I lean more towards the idea of a composite rather than mythic Jesus – if there was an historical Jesus, then the historical figure is so wrapped up in OT and homeric exegesi, historical overlays from other contemporary Jesi, historical overlays from Josephus’ works, cultural overlays of savior motifs from surrounding cultures, theological overlays from greek mystery religions, and theological overlays from contemporary Celestial Christ beliefs that, without more source documents, we’ll never be able to discern the original historical figure through all the accreted materials.

          That is what I like about your new(ish) proposal. I feel that it’s strength is in its stripping away all the conflicting historical, theological, and exegetical data and asking what is left. As such it presents the best ideas yet for an historical / spiritual basis for the rise of an early movement, probably catalyzed by one man from contemporary semi-judaic spiritualism centered around the Celestial Christ and maintained, for a time by close followers, before being taken over by a second figure (Paul / Simon Magus(?)), who stabilized and theologized it into the what we now think of as Early Christianity.

          Whether that catalyzing figure was actually a Jesus or if “Jesus” was a messianic title – used by a movement believing in a dual messiahship (a “Joshua” who represented the royal / military messiah and an “Eleazar / Lazarus” who represented the priestly messiah) – which was given to a man whose real name was lost, we may never know and, honestly, doesn’t particularly affect your theory.

          Having discovered an entire world of judaic shamanism underlying the OT (inspired, in the beginning, by Gershon Winkler’s “Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism”), your proposed origin of Christianity fits right into my own ideas of the “spiritual” environment of the times in Middle East.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-02-21 08:29:14 UTC - 08:29 | Permalink

          I posted a synopsis of your argument about a week before this post: Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement, comparing it with one by James C. Hanges on the spread of Paul’s Christianity among the Greeks.

          I don’t see that mythicism makes any difference to the fundamental thesis of “spirit possession” as an explanation for the spread of Christianity.

          I posted some questions your book raises over there since that post is more to the point of the question of Christianity’s spread.

  • GS Neil
    2015-02-28 02:41:56 UTC - 02:41 | Permalink

    Another weaver in the tapestry of a “pre-Christian” Christianity tale is independent scholar, Margaret Barker. Generally, she asserts that Christianity arose from the first temple system of ancient Israel and relies quite a bit on pre-common era texts such as Enoch and she also refers to the Odes as informing elements of the Pauline extract of the much older faith that transmuted into Christianity.

  • Bee
    2015-03-10 18:43:08 UTC - 18:43 | Permalink

    Good post. I am currently hypothetisizing that the apocrypha originate Christianity, and references to Jesus are not interpolated.

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