I expect this post will conclude my series challenging Richard Carrier’s arguments in On the Historicity of Jesus attempting to justify the common belief that early first century Judea was patchwork quilt of messianic movements. This belief has been challenged by specialist scholars* (see comment) especially since the 1990s but their work has still to make major inroads among many of the more conservative biblical scholars. We have seen the Christian doctrinal origins of this myth and I discuss another aspect of those doctrinal or ideological presumptions in this post. Carrier explicitly dismissed three names — Horsley, Freyne, Goodman — who are sceptical of the conventional wisdom, but I think this series of posts has shown that there are more than just three names in that camp. Many more than I have cited could also be quoted. Their arguments require serious engagement.
Richard Carrier sets out over forty social, political, religious and cultural background factors that anyone exploring the evidence for Christian origins should keep in mind. This is an excellent introduction to his argument, but there are a few I question. Here is one more:
(a) The pre-Christian book of Daniel was a key messianic text, laying out what would happen and when, partly inspiring much of the very messianic ferver of the age, which by the most obvious (but not originally intended) interpretation predicted the messiah’s arrival in the early first century, even (by some calculations) the very year of 30 ce.
(b) This text was popularly known and widely influential, and was known and regarded as scripture by the early Christians.
(Carrier 2014, p. 83, my formatting and bolding in all quotations)
The current scholarly approach to the origins of Christology has been guided by the apocalyptic hypothesis. The apocalyptic hypothesis is that Jesus proclaimed the imminence of the kingdom of God, a reign or domain ultimately imaginable only in apocalyptic terms. Early Christians somehow associated Jesus himself with the kingdom of God he announced (thinking of him as the king of the kingdom) and thus proclaimed him to be the Messiah. If Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, as the logic seems to have run, it was only natural for early Christians to conclude that he must have been the expected Messiah and that it was therefore right to call him the Christ.
With this hypothesis in place, the field of christological “background” studies has naturally been limited to the search for “messianic” figures in Jewish apocalyptic literature.2
2. A theological pattern has guided a full scholarly quest for evidence of the Jewish “expectation” of “the Messiah” that Jesus “fulfilled.” Because of the apocalyptic hypothesis, privilege has been granted to Jewish apocalyptic literature as the natural context for expressing messianic expectations. The pattern of “promise and fulfillment” allows for discrepancies among “messianic” profiles without calling into question the notion of a fundamental correspondence. Only recently has the failure to establish a commonly held expectation of “the” Messiah led to a questioning of the apocalyptic hypothesis.
(Mack 2009, pp. 192-93)
Part (b) is certainly true. Part (a), no, not so. The apocalyptic book of Daniel was popular but it was not a key messianic text.
The book of Daniel was a well known apocalyptic work but most apocalyptic literature of the day contained no references to a messiah. Apocalypticism and messianism are not synonymous nor even always conjoined. Messiahs were not integral to the apocalyptic genre. It was more common in apocalyptic writings to declare that God himself would act directly, perhaps with the support of his angelic hosts. Very few such texts contain references to a messiah. Even when reading Daniel you need to be careful not to blink lest you miss his single reference to an anointed one (messiah). And even that sole reference, as we learn from the commentaries and to which Carrier himself alludes, is a historical reference to the high priest Onias III. There is nothing eschatological associated with his death.
Yes but, but ….
…. Didn’t the Jews in Jesus day believe that that reference was to a messiah who was soon to appear?
This is where a search through the evidence might yield an answer.
The evidence supporting “this fact”?
According to Carrier there is an abundance of evidence supporting “this fact” — by which he appears to mean both parts (a) and (b) in the above quotation.
This fact [i.e. a+b] is already attested by the many copies and commentaries on Daniel recovered from Qumran,45 46 but it’s evident also in the fact that the Jewish War itself may have been partly a product of it. As at Qumran, the key inspiring text was the messianic timetable described in the book of Daniel (in Dan. 9.23-27). (pp. 83-84) . . . .
. . . .
45. See Carrier, ‘Spiritual Body’, in Empty Tomb (ed. Price and Lowder), pp. 114-15, 132-47, 157, 212 (η. 166). The heavenly ascent narrative known to Ignatius, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr (see Chapter 8, §6) may have alluded to this passage in Zechariah, if this is what is intended by mentioning the lowly state of Jesus’ attire when he enters God’s heavenly court in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 36.
46. On the numerous copies of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including fragments of commentaries on it, see Peter Flint, ‘The Daniel Tradition at Qumran’, in Eschatology (ed. Evans and Flint), pp. 41-60, and F.F. Bruce, ‘The Book of Daniel and the Qumran Community’, in Neotestamentica et semitica; Studies in Honour of Matthew Black (ed. E. Earle Ellis and Max Wilcox; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 1969). pp. 221-35.
I suspect some oversight at #45 because I am unable to locate a related discussion in Empty Tomb. So on to #46. I don’t have Bruce’s book chapter but I do have Peter Flint’s. Here is his chart setting out the Daniel texts in the Qumran scrolls (p. 43):
Notice what’s missing, apart from any certainty regarding Daniel 9 as explained in the side-box. There is no Daniel 9:24-26. No reference to the anointed one. (We might see a flicker of hope with those few verses from chapter 9 in that table but sadly Flint has this to say about those:
However, the eighth manuscript, 4QDane, may have contained only part of Daniel, since it only preserves material from Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9. If this is the case — which is likely but impossible to prove — 4QDane would not qualify as a copy of the book of Daniel. (Flint 1997. p. 43)
But wait, it may not be lost, because another scroll, 11Q14 or the Melchizedek scroll, has a line that stops short where we would expect to find it, or at least a few words of it:
This vi[sitation] is the Day of [Salvation] that He has decreed [. . . through Isai]ah the prophet [concerning all the captives,] inasmuch as Scripture sa[ys, “How] beautiful upon the mountains are the fee[t of] the messeng[er] who [an]nounces peace, who brings [good] news, [who announces salvat]ion, who [sa]ys to Zion “Your [di]vine being [reigns”.” (Isa. 52:7).] This scripture’s interpretation: “the mountains” [are] the prophet[s], they w[ho were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to] proph[esy] to all I[srael.] And “the messenger” is the Anointed of the Spir[it,] of whom Dan[iel] spoke; [“After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed One shall be cut off” (Dan. 9:26) The “messenger who brings] good news, who announ[ces Salvation”] is the one of whom it is wri[tt]en; [“to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the vengeance of our God;] to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61:2) (Wise, Abegg and Cook’s translation and commentary, pp. 592-93. The square brackets indicate various types of damage to the scroll. I have greyed these sections.)
Wise, Abegg and Cook’s commentary:
The messenger, also designated “Anointed of the Spirit” (Hebrew messiah), is conceived of as coming with a message from God, a message explicating the course of history (that is, a declaration of when the End shall come) and teaching about God’s truths. (p. 591)
So that anointed one is a messenger, a prophet, delivering a message delivered also by other prophets. The more I investigate the Scrolls and Daniel and Daniel’s sole reference to an anointed one in particular, the less clear it is to me that the community attached to these scrolls had any special interest in the coming of this “anointed” prophetic figure, and far less in expecting him to turn up in their own day, and certainly not with any special eschatological function.
But, but, but…. Don’t we only have a fraction of the original Qumran collection? Could not those writings now lost to us have been infused with speculations about Daniel’s anointed one?
When interest in the book of Daniel is strongest
Well, to help us gain some perspective, let’s look at another text most scholars would date to the first century, one that is pervaded with allusions to the book of Daniel. In fact, in six chapters alone there are 12 quotations of, 22 allusions to, and about 13 signs of the influence of the book of Daniel. Such a single text is sure fire evidence that those it was written for had a very strong interest in Daniel. That text is the Gospel of Mark. (Those allusions, quotations and influences that are found in one chapter of Mark are listed at The little apocalypse of Mark 13 – historical or creative prophecy?.)
Mark is a narrative about a messiah. But despite all of its fascination with the book of Daniel there is not one single hint in it that the “anointed one” of Daniel 9 elicited any interest whatsoever. And in neither the Gospel nor the Qumran writings is there any indication at all of date-setting, calculations to indicate something imminent, etc. Indeed, Jesus in the Gospels insists that the day and hour are unknown. Daniel was an apocalypse anticipating God’s final judgements and rewards but it was not read as a book about messianic hopes according to our earliest “Christian” witnesses.
Recall that the apocalyptic hypothesis (above) has befogged conventional searches for messianic origins in the centuries up to the time of the birth of Christianity. A work can be apocalyptic, it can be inspired by all sorts of eschatological visions and prophecies, but none of that means it has to speak about a messiah. And most apocalyptic works of the era don’t.
Listen to the silence and what do you hear?
Richard Carrier’s appeal to Peter Flint’s chapter (footnote #46) successfully support his claim that the book of Daniel was a very important text and was even considered to be Scripture at Qumran. No surprise that this should be so when we recollect that like the original audience of Daniel’s prophecies, the Qumran community also saw itself driven out and persecuted and surrounded by apostate Jews. But it does not follow that interest in Daniel focused on messianic ideas.
Consider another set of early Christian writings, the New Testament letters attributed to the apostles. A messiah figure dominates those scribblings. There are concerns to establish credentials and beliefs against nonbelievers and mavericks. Yet nowhere is there a hint that anyone thought to consult the calculations from Daniel’s prophecies to prove that Jesus was the real thing. Same with Acts despite all the opportunities to do so in those narrated attempts to prove to unbelieving Jews that Jesus was the messiah despite or rather because of his death?
Carrier emphatically asserts that it was Daniel 9 that was the prophecy Josephus claimed was exciting the Jews to keep up their fight against Rome.
As at Qumran, the key inspiring text was the messianic timetable described in the book of Daniel (in Dan. 9.23-27). By various calculations this could be shown to predict, by the very Word of God, that the messiah would come sometime in the early first century CE. (Carrier 2014, p. 84)
But see my previous post for a more nuanced appreciation of the plausibility of this suggestion. Besides, if the calculations really pointed to the early first century then one wonders how they supposedly inspired some form of maniacal violence forty years, a generation or two, later.
Several examples of these calculations survive in early Christian literature, the clearest appearing in Julius Africanus in the third century.47 The date there calculated is precisely 30 CE; hence it was expected on this calculation (which was simple and straightforward enough that anyone could easily have come up with the same result well before the rise of Christianity) that a messiah would arise and be killed in that year (as we saw Daniel had ‘predicted’ in 9.26: see Element 5), which is an obvious basis for setting the gospel story precisely then . . . , or else a basis for believing that, of all messianic claimants, ‘our’ Jesus Christ was the one for real.
. . . .
47. Julius Africanus, in his lost History of the World, which excerpt survives in the collection of George Syncellus, Excerpts of Chronography 18.2. Other examples of this kind of calculation survive in Tertullian, Answer to the Jews 8, and Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 1.21.(125-26).
48. Josephus, Jewish War 6.312-16 (Carrier 2014, p. 84)
I do agree with Carrier’s main thesis in Element 5, that some Jews did expect a dying messiah. But Daniel 9 alone does not give rise to that belief. It was primarily about Onias III, don’t forget. This is a discussion for another time, however. Meanwhile anyone interested can review my posts on Boyarin’s and Hengel’s discussions. This series of posts does not deny a wide variety of messianic ideas at the time; it is attempting to point out the lack of evidence we have for messianic fever.
Arguments from silence carry weight when we have very good reasons to expect lots of noise. If, as Carrier suggests, there really was a keen interest among messianic groups of various kinds for dating the arrival of the messiah to around 30 CE from the book of Daniel we would surely have a right to expect evidence to support that scenario. I have pointed above to some of that deafening silence in the Gospels, New Testament epistles and Acts.
Cheating at arithmetic
Roger Pearse has made available online excerpts from Syncellus’s Chronography. I have not read those but I have read the relevant sections of the full work and one thing is clear: Syncellus did not start with Daniel’s prophecies and work out a time-table to see where it ended up. He began with the “infallible” rock of Luke 3:1 that declares the whole story began in the fifteenth year of emperor Tiberius. That is, he cheated.
To make Daniel’s 490 years fit, he had to convert lunar years to solar years and even then find ways to fudge the results. It’s a most interesting read, seeing what mental contortions he put himself through to make it all work out. It is very obvious why no-one in the early first century ever calculated Daniel’s prophetic weeks to culminate in 30 CE. What Syncellus, Tertullian and Clement were doing was working backwards, not forwards, to find various ways to make the numbers fit. Had there been straightforward ways of seeing how Daniel’s numbers all pointed to 30 CE among the scribes at that time, and if word had leaked out to the general population to fuel messianic movements, I think we would have a right to expect some evidence of this in our earliest Christian writings, certainly before the late second and third centuries apologists.
Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.
Flint, Peter W. 1997. “The Daniel Tradition at Qumran”. In Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint, 41-60. Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
Georgios, Synkellos. 2002. The Chronography of George Synkellos: A Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation. Translated by William Adler. New York ; Oxford: OUP.
Kee, Howard C. 1975. “The Function of Scriptural Quotations and Allustions In Mark 11-16.” In Jesus Und Paulus : Festschrift F. Werner Georg Keummel Z. 70. Geburstag, 165-188. Gottingen; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Mack, B. L. 2009. “The Christ and Jewish Wisdom.” In The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 192-221. Minneapolis; Fortress Press.
Ulrich, Eugene. 1987. “Daniel Manuscripts from Qumran. Part 1: A Preliminary Edition of 4 QDana.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 268: 17–37. doi:10.2307/1356992.
Wise, Michael, Abegg, Martin and Cook, Edward. 2005. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Francisco: Harper.