2017-05-04

How John the Baptist was Reshaped by each Gospel

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The following is adapted from a 1975 article by Morton S. Enslin, John and Jesus. Enslin argues that the evidence in the gospels does not support the common view that Jesus began his career as a disciple of John the Baptist. In fact Enslin argues that when we examine the gospel narratives in sequence it is far more probable that the paths of John and Jesus never crossed. 

Enslin, relying upon the account of John in Josephus, believes John was a preacher who stood completely apart from Christian origins. This presumed historical John was considered to be a powerful threat to the authorities who had him executed.

From this starting point Enslin sees the evangelists writing alongside an independent John the Baptist movement and each one (at least after Mark) in succession contrives in his own way to make this John more “Christian”.

The Gospel of Mark

John suddenly appears without explanation. He is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John did baptize . . . and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

Jesus appears and is baptized.

There is no hint that John recognizes Jesus as the greater one who is to come after him.

After emerging from the water God announces to Jesus (no one else apparently hears) that he is his son:

Thou art my beloved son…. (Mark 1:11)

The Gospel of Matthew

John recognizes that Jesus is the greater one to come after him and protests the need to baptize him.

In Matthew Jesus was introduced as being born as God’s son so there is no need at the baptism for God to declare to Jesus his status. Nor is there any need to inform John who recognized him prior to baptism.

Therefore after Jesus emerges from the river the voice from heaven informs the surrounding people:

This is my beloved son…. (Matthew 3:17)

Matthew also removes John baptizing “for the remission of sins” and places that concept later so that sins are remitted instead through the death of Jesus:

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

In Matthew John merely preaches repentance but there is no reference to remission of sins as there is in Mark.

The Gospel of Luke

John recognizes Jesus as early as his time in the womb at the meeting of their prospective mothers.

When Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb…. (Luke 1:41)

Luke also takes the prophecy of Malachi 3:1

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.

which equates the Lord to come with Yahweh (the LORD) and reinterprets the Lord to refer to Jesus, before whom John comes:

And thou, child [John], shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord [Jesus] to prepare his ways (Luke 1:76)

Luke thereby doubly subordinates John to Jesus. John recognizes Jesus from the womb and understands him to be the Lord for whom he is to prepare the way.

The Gospel of John

No longer is John an independent preacher. He is but a voice, or, to change the figure, a finger pointing to Jesus. The baptism story is not told, although it is referred to (John 1:32f). But the baptism of Jesus is deprived of any significance for Jesus — not surprising since the latter has just been introduced as the preexistent Christ, who had been the effective agent responsible for the world’s creation. Thus the baptism, with the descending dove, was for the sole benefit of John, to indicate to him the identity of the “greater successor”, whose advent it is his one function to proclaim. (Enslin, p. 4)


Enslin, M.L. 1975. “John and Jesus” in ZMW, 66, 1-18.


 

 

 

36 Comments

  • Darth Ballz
    2017-05-04 21:05:13 UTC - 21:05 | Permalink

    I like the way Mark makes use of literary sources to construct John the Baptist.

    Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.) He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wildernes in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on).

    Then, as Price says:

    1. In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller, p. 48) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

    2.In view of the preceding parallels, it is hardly a surprise that Mark would have people inferring that Jesus is the returned Elijah. Indeed, their opinion is righter than Mark lets on!
               
    Usually scholars allow some core of historical reporting to underlie the story of the Baptizer’s death (though any reading of Mark must be harmonized with some difficulty with Josephus), recognizing just a bit of biblical embellishment to the narrative. For instance, it is apparent to all that Herod Antipas’ words to his step-daughter, “Whatever you ask of me I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom,” comes from Esther 5:3. Herod’s painting himself into the corner of having to order the execution of his favorite prophet may come from Darius’ bamboozlement in the case of Daniel (Daniel 6:6-15) (Miller, p. 178). But it is possible that the whole tale comes from literary sources.
                MacDonald (pp. 80-81, 176) shows how the story of John’s martyrdom matches in all essentials the Odyssey’s story of the murder of Agamemnon (3:254-308: 4:512-547; 11:404-434), even to the point that both are told in the form of an analepsis or flashback. Herodias, like Queen Clytemnestra, left her husband, preferring his cousin: Antipas in the one case, Aegisthus in the other. This tryst was threatened, in Clytemnestra’s case, by the return of her husband from the Trojan War, in Herodias’, by the denunciations of John. In both cases, the wicked adulteress plots the death of the nuisance. Aegisthus hosted a banquet to celebrate Agamemnon’s return, just as Herod hosted a feast. During the festivities Agamemnon is slain, sprawling amid the dinner plates, and the Baptizer is beheaded, his head displayed on a serving platter. Homer foreshadows danger awaiting the returning Odysseus with the story of Agamemnon’s murder, while Mark anticipates Jesus’ own martyrdom with that of John. The only outstanding difference, of course, is that in Mark’s version, the role of Agamemnon has been split between Herodias’ rightful husband (Philip according to Mark; another Herod according to Josephus) and John the Baptizer.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-04 22:15:33 UTC - 22:15 | Permalink

    You may be interested in another observation by Morton Enslin:

    In addition, the story current in Rome and chronicled by Dio Cassius of the beheading in A. D. 75 of Heras because of his denouncing Titus’ immoral conduct with Berenice may well have had its influence in the rise of the Christian tale. (p. 13)

    Dio Cassius 65:15:

    Berenice was at the very height of her power and consequently came to Rome along with her brother [Herod] Agrippa. The latter was given the rank of praetor, while she dwelt in the palace, cohabiting with Titus. She expected to marry him and was already behaving in every respect as if she were his wife; but when he perceived that the Romans were displeased with the situation, he sent her away. For, in addition to all the other talk that there was, certain sophists of the Cynic school managed somehow to slip into the city at this time, too; and first Diogenes, entering the theatre when it was full, denounced the pair in a long, abusive speech, for which he was flogged; and after him Heras, expecting no harsher punishment, gave vent to many senseless yelpings in true Cynic fashion, and for this was beheaded.

    • Darth Ballz
      2017-05-04 22:27:43 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

      Wow! The typology just keeps on accumulating and accumulating. If there was a historical core, the gospel writers certainly never intended anyone to find it!

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-05-04 22:39:16 UTC - 22:39 | Permalink

        Oops, I read that backwards. I thought it was saying Dio Cassius influenced the Gospels. lol

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-05-05 00:00:03 UTC - 00:00 | Permalink

          It is interesting to know that the author of the gospel may well have been aware of the event in Rome in 75.

          • Darth Ballz
            2017-05-05 01:24:26 UTC - 01:24 | Permalink

            I thought Mark was written before 75. Consensus seems to say it was probably written c.AD 66–70, during Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, as suggested by internal references to war in Judea and to persecution. See Perkins, Pheme (1998). “The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles: Telling the Christian Story”. In Barton, John. The Cambridge companion to biblical interpretation.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-05-05 03:34:13 UTC - 03:34 | Permalink

              Consensus is nothing more than current popular opinion. And in this case the popular opinion has an interest in finding a way to date Mark as early as possible to the supposed events of around 30 CE.

              I prefer to work within parameters of valid method and the evidence. It could be anywhere between 70 and 140 CE. Any date pre 70 works with a very precarious interpretation of Mark 13, imo. If we take Mark’s interest in persecution to heart we are more likely to date to around times we have evidence of persecutions — and some slight evidence allows us to set that as early as around 90 CE.

              I wonder, also, how long we should allow for the “midrashic” interpretations of the Scriptures to explain the fallen Temple, including Christ as a figure of the Temple, too. Did that really all happen within months of its fall? I don’t know.

              There is also the probability of an ‘ur-Mark’. The canonical account of John the Baptist’s beheading does look a bit like a cuckoo in the nest and Roger Parvus is one who suspects the John the Baptist passages were added to an earlier Mark.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-05 14:01:51 UTC - 14:01 | Permalink

                The destruction of the temple just reflects the apocalyptic presentation of Jesus’ message, so while it may just reflect historical memory written a short time after the actual fall, it may just represent a much earlier tradition, and the actual fall was just a coincidence. If the writer wanted to show Jesus’ apocalyptic message, it might just be natural to assume the temple would be destroyed.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-07 22:55:00 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

                Mark’s apocalyptic language borrowed from Daniel references an abomination of desolation but no destruction of the temple. The temple’s destruction is not part of apocalyptic tradition, — unless I’m overlooking something. The simplest explanation is that the author is looking back on the temple’s destruction.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-07 23:17:25 UTC - 23:17 | Permalink

                @Neil: Regarding the prediction by Jesus of the destruction of the temple and this prediction’s date, here is the opinion of Elaine Pagels from a recent interview:

                INTERVIEWER MARTIN NOWAK: Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple as we read in the New Testament, but that was written after the destruction of the temple but do they have any historical evidence that they have written predictions, or was it actually written after the fact? And the second, question John of Patmos, did he have access to some of the New Testament writings like Mark’s Gospel?

                ELAINE PAGELS: There’s no evidence that he read anything like that. The only things we can tell that he read all the time were the prophets. Yes, what you say is what we all learned in graduate school, that Jesus couldn’t have predicted the fall of the temple, that it was obviously added after his death. I am not convinced of that. If you read Josephus’s The Jewish War, He tells about Jesus Ben Ananias.

                Josephus, who was a general in Galilee and a governor of Galilee, and fought in the Jewish War against Rome, says that there was a prophet, a crazy prophet named Jesus Ben Ananias, who in the year 62, in Jerusalem, was going around and predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed until eight years later. But Jesus Ben Ananias prophesied it. Now, this would make sense if he, if Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Ben Ananias, John the Baptist and others, were convinced that the temple cult, having been taken over by the Romans, had been completely corrupted, was no longer the worship of God. And God was eventually going to destroy that temple just as he had destroyed the first temple.

                The other thing is I can’t imagine anybody just making up, like Jesus prophesied the end of the temple. If Jesus had actually said it, which he could well have said, that would have been something that would galvanize somebody. But would you take a dead prophet and say that he had actually prophesied the destruction of the World Trade Towers, 30 years earlier, if there was no suggestion of such a thing? I think if he had said something like that, then it would have provided the enormous excitement and impetus for people who said he had actually prophesied what happened. And that would mean that the end of the world was coming. How else could you possibly believe a message like this?

                Also, if you were making up a prophecy after the fact, what would you say? You wouldn’t say not one stone shall be standing on another. You’ve probably been in Jerusalem, right? Many people here have been there. There are lots of stones of the temple remaining. The Romans threw them down, but there are many stones standing, so you wouldn’t make up a prophecy that completely contradicts what actually happened. If Jesus had said, not one stone shall be standing on another, and that’s not what happened, you’d have done better. But you would remember if he’d said something dramatic like that, even if it didn’t literally come true. That’s what convinces me that it’s more likely that he said it. But who knows? Maybe they made it up. I don’t see how they would have had the energy to start this movement, though.

                -What do you think Neil?

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-05-05 18:16:35 UTC - 18:16 | Permalink

              On the other hand, if Mark was just writing a period piece of historical fiction, who knows how long after the fall of the Temple Mark was writing?

              • Amy!
                2017-05-05 23:00:13 UTC - 23:00 | Permalink

                Terminus a quo (could not have happened before this point) and terminus ad quem (could not have happened after this point). The way in which these points are determined in the field of New Testament Studies is, perhaps, somewhat surprising for documentary historians.

                There a hard terminus ad quem from dating the scraps of gMark that we have in manuscript, but that’s third century. It’s almost certainly from before then. Similarly, it’s almost certainly after Paul (the dating of which is itself contentious, but middle of first century is largely accepted). The “little apocalypse,” presumed to refer to the destruction of the temple or of Jerusalem, suggests that it’s after one of the major disasters (in 70 and 135 CE). 70 CE is generally the most aggressive terminus a quo (there are some outliers that would like to press it back earlier, even contemporaneous with Paul). Another point for that is the casual reference to Jesus teaching in synagogues in Galilee, which I understand did not exist while the temple was still in operation (and given the relatively casual references, suggests that some time passed so that their existence began to be taken for granted; this argument carries less weight if one assumes that ‘Galilee’ is code for the entire Mediterranean littoral and the Jews in the diaspora, which had started before the defeat in 70).

                The more likely terminus ad quem is around the middle of the second century, due to dating of the other gospels, which in turn depends upon references to them in other works. It is possible, and has been argued, that all of the gospels were composed around the time of the collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt. I find the arguments interesting and persuasive, but they tend to make NT scholars kind of intemperate. For gMark, though, or at least for the urMark Neil refers to, that’s a harder argument to make, I think.

                I believe that some people also identify what they believe is borrowing from Josephus in gMark, which would push the terminus a quo to the 90s. Likewise, the echo of Dio Cassius is another small argument in favor of a date after those events (and after they were reported such that an author could decide to make use of them).

                Neil, are there articles here that focus on dating? I don’t find an obvious category for them, but I may not be searching well.

                (this is supposed to be in response to comment 81726, but I may have messed up the nesting)

              • R Pence
                2017-05-06 05:33:51 UTC - 05:33 | Permalink

                I’m starting to have problems with the nesting myself. For example, this is in response to ‘Amy!’ above, though it gives me no ‘reply’ to click on.

                I recently read Dykstra’s ‘Mark, Canonizer of Paul’, which made a good case that GMark both knew of the Paulines and was a Paulinist gospel. In a fuzzy sort of way, I find this consistent with Parvus’ presentation on this website of GMark as an allegory based on the life of Simon Magus, there being a good deal of reason think the Paul figure and the Simon Magus figure may be the same.

                Dykstra, evidently following from David Aune, suggests that the language at the start of GMark has a particular, even technical meaning identifying GMark as an account of the *origins* of the gospel (in actual fact, Paul’s gospel). Put alongside the fact that the Jesus of GMark doesn’t give any real teaching in that gospel, it starts to look like GMark is a sort of origin story.

                That leads me to think – and I don’t find this in Dykstra’s book – that this branding of GMark as the ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’ of the gospel came with the editing that transformed a proto- or UrMark into GMark. Consider: if Mark were indeed written first as conventionally understood, why would there be no teachings in it? The gospel itself is missing from this gospel. If you were the first to undertake the writing of such a gospel, why would you fail to put any of Jesus’ purported teachings in it?

                I sort of think that there was an urMark, maybe an allegory of Simon Magus per Parvus; that this was Marcion’s gospel. GMatthew was written as a bigger, better form of it. The urMark was held back in the nascent Catholic church, sort of half-lost and then ‘rediscovered’. Garbled oral tradition in the Church may have led to Marcion’s gospel being called Mark. But it went through a single big redaction and was branded the Jesus origin story.

                This is all tentative and tenuous, of course, but as it relates to dating: to my mind this would put the GMark that comes down to us rather late. After all, there must be time for the original (fragments of) epistles from Simonian christians to deterioriate, to be redacted, and so on, first by the original Simonians, and later by Marcionites. These epistles – pre- or post-interpolation, I don’t know – must be known to the author of urMark. Later, in the struggle with Marcion, GMark is released…

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-07 18:28:07 UTC - 18:28 | Permalink

                @ RPence:

                “I recently read Dykstra’s ‘Mark, Canonizer of Paul’, which made a good case that GMark both knew of the Paulines and was a Paulinist gospel.”

                You could make a case that the climax in Mark (the ripping of the temple veil, symbolizing the reconciling of God and man; and the words of the centurion, symbolizing the reconciling of Jew and Greek) is taken directly from Galatians 3:13-14:

                (1) Galatians 3:13-14New King James Version (NKJV)

                13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-07 22:56:45 UTC - 22:56 | Permalink

                Nesting is a bit of a pain but unfortunately not much I can do about it without scrambling all past comments.

                The best option is to start a fresh comment at the bottom of the comments page and address the person/comment you are responding to.

  • Arkenaten
    2017-05-05 09:26:30 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

    The best way to describe the gospels might be like so, to quote the immortal words from the movie, Life of Brian:
    ”He’s making it up as he goes along!”

    One wonders how long it will be before there is an official admission that it truly is all a crock?

    Another excellent article Neil.

  • Bob Jase
    2017-05-05 16:01:20 UTC - 16:01 | Permalink

    Kind of reminds me of JFK’s appearance in Superman stories. Cameos at first, builing closer over the next couple and finally Superman picks up the burden of continuing JFK’s physical fitness program.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-07 23:05:28 UTC - 23:05 | Permalink

    In reply to Amy and posts on dating the gospels —

    Yes, my indexing system is a real mess. I need to pay someone full time for a month to fix it! :-/

    But if you search the phrase, in quotations, “dating the gospels” (or “date the gospels”) in “Search Vridar” box you will find several posts addressing that topic. If not, let me know and I’ll compile a list of some.

    Also search on “dating Mark”.

    • Amy!
      2017-05-08 02:51:48 UTC - 02:51 | Permalink

      Thank you, Neil! I feel a bit “d’oh!” because I should’ve thought of that and used search strings rather than trying to walk through the categories. Sorry for the noise.

      Another possibly worthwhile note to add to the gMark dating debate we seem to be involved in: Trobisch’s First Edition of the New Testament. It’s an actual documentary-historic approach to the problem of dating. Trobisch has quite a number of important contributions there (such as an argument that the genre of all of the New Testament, but particularly the gospels, is “scripture” based on the characteristic abbreviations and other elements), but for dating, he notes that all of the surviving variants appear to be descended from a single edition prepared (all of the current canon together) around 150 CE. That effectively says that our final redaction (which could have incorporated significant editorial license, though the difference in authorial voice between, for instance, the seven probable-autograph Pauline epistles versus the deutero-Paulines versus the pastorals versus the other apostolic letters versus each of the gospels (where Luke-Acts seems to have a single author) versus the apocalypse tend to indicate that it’s a collection of previously existing materials with a publisher/redactor rather than wholesale revision), and the terminus ad quem for all the components of the NT, would be around 150 CE.

      But that still doesn’t get us to the terminus a quo. The NT Studies crew would like it to be early, because that suggests that “the church” existed early. I was impressed with Roger Parvus’s arguments that seemed to suggest that “proto-orthodoxy” as a movement didn’t really come into existence until the first apologists (notably Justin) appeared. That’s not to say that the tendency wouldn’t have existed; proto-orthodoxy seems to have been more focused on institutional and administrative organization than on the sorts of teleological and theological debates beloved of the gnostics, who would have been significant to the early Jesus movement, if Roger’s analysis and speculation is accepted (and if I’m not misunderstanding it).

      I have to go find the discussion of Mark as a Simonian product in his Simonian Origin series, but as I recall, his dating placed it probably around the time of the deutero-Paulines, the materials produced (if Simonian-school) by Menander or those around him. But that, again, simply suggests “late first century.” Also, classing gMark as a gnostic product explains a lot about why the disciples are such boneheads and why the actual preaching (and so doctrine) of the great teacher doesn’t appear in it (and why gMark so insistently hangs a lamp on that, repeatedly).

      I occasionally allow myself to imagine the discovery of a cache of documents in Sinope, or somewhere in Pontus (sadly unlikely, as it’s not the spectacularly low-humidity sort of environment that seems best-suited to surprisingly-long preservation of written materials) that would give us an alternate view of these struggles from the second century. Wouldn’t that be interetsing?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-05-08 04:58:57 UTC - 04:58 | Permalink

        Another point I think might be worth considering is Justin Martyr’s writings, esp Trypho — he appears to me to be making it all up directly from the OT scriptures. So if that sort of process was still being worked out as “late” as 140s, what does it indicate about the standard of narratives we have in our gospels? (I know Justin is thought to know of our gospels, but I think the evidence is not so secure — at least not for knowing them in the canonical form we have them.)

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-08 00:32:26 UTC - 00:32 | Permalink

    In response to Darth Ballz and the Elaine Pagels’ query:

    There is a huge difference between a maniac predicting total destruction when Roman armies have you surrounded and are threatening to do just that on the one hand, and predicting total destruction in an earlier generation when all was peace and quiet and there was not the slightest threat of war even, on the other hand.

    Pagels’ other argument that “they would not have made it up” is — not to put too fine a point on it — fatuous speculation. It is not an argument at all. It is a baseless assertion contrary to the evidence.

    Of course there were reasons to make it up after the event and to place it in the mouth of a prophet if one needed a rationale for what had happened.

    • Darth Ballz
      2017-05-08 01:36:36 UTC - 01:36 | Permalink

      I think Pagels makes a couple good points:

      1) It would have been perfectly reasonable for Jesus to predict the fall of the temple if Jesus thought the temple cult, having been taken over by the Romans, had been completely corrupted, was no longer in the worship of God- and God was eventually going to destroy that temple just as he had destroyed the first temple.

      2) Jesus got the prediction inaccurate. Jesus said not one stone shall be standing on another. That’s not what happened. Had the prediction been made after the fact, the description of the situation with the temple probably would have been portrayed accurately.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-05-08 04:29:26 UTC - 04:29 | Permalink

        I see nothing reasonable about Jesus or anyone else in the early first century or any time prior to 66 CE predicting the destruction of the temple. It would make no sense, as far as I can tell. There were no threats at all.

        We read of plenty of complaints in other literature of the day about corrupt priests etc but the destruction of the temple itself is nowhere on the horizon. It’s one of those assurances that people like Pagels make up to rationalize the data to support the hypothetical model. It is not evidence-based historical reconstruction.

        As for the apocalyptic hyperbole of no stone standing on another — there are many indications the author was not writing from Palestine. He had no idea how large the temple was — as we see from his portrayal of one man putting a stop to the sacrificial trading system.

        Pagels is just imagining a make-believe scenario. Read a story and without any other reason apart from the thought that it’s plausible simply imagine that it “might have happened” — and from there we go to “there is no reason to doubt….” That’s not how history is done — unless one is a biblical scholar working on the gospels.

        I know of no prima facie grounds for taking anything in the canonical gospels as genuine history. Such an approach to documents without any independent support or awareness of provenance or from a genre and discourse unlike any other associated with history is unheard of in other areas of historical enquiry.

        • Darth Ballz
          2017-05-08 15:57:40 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

          I think Pagels is going with the generally accepted framework that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, so proclamations of doom and gloom for the corrupt temple cult would have been understandable.

          • Darth Ballz
            2017-05-08 16:48:57 UTC - 16:48 | Permalink

            Pagels doesn’t indicate simply a human threat to the temple, but rather God was eventually going to destroy that temple just as he had destroyed the first temple.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-05-08 22:56:24 UTC - 22:56 | Permalink

            Exactly, and that, imo, is what’s wrong with Pagels’ argument. It is special pleading and ad hoc as so many statements about the historical Jesus are. “It could have happened”, “sounds plausible”, “I see no reason to doubt” — that’s the entire basis of their reconstruction. It’s simply not how history is done in any field I am aware of — except biblical studies. There may be other exceptions but I am not aware of them.

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-05-09 01:43:00 UTC - 01:43 | Permalink

              In Literary hermeneutics, interpretations make sense of the work (such as “revenge” in Moby Dick), but do not exclude other interpretations (even contrary ones). Literary hermeneutics offer “one possible way” of focusing in on a text, and so doesn’t involve “probability.” In historical reconstructions, probability is established so one particular reconstruction is going to be more likely than others. Maybe the problem with biblical historical reconstructions is that they are working from a literary source, and so are asking their interpretation to do more with it than the source will allow (such as establishing probability)?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-09 06:06:54 UTC - 06:06 | Permalink

                Your comment reminds me that I have yet to return to another forum to catch up on a discussion re postmodernism.

                Historical inquiry cannot rely upon an interpretation of a writing without reference to independent (external) sources. I am surprised that so many biblical scholars jumped on board the postmodernist approach because I thought as Christians they would frown upon such an absence of hard and fast rules; but I was not at all surprised when I realized they were using postmodernism as a cop-out from doing genuine historical inquiry. It enables them to justify any conclusion that suits them.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-09 15:23:15 UTC - 15:23 | Permalink

                @ Neil:

                There must be some plasticity in the texts for “historical Jesus investigators” to identify Jesus as ranging from an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah or prophet of social change.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-17 06:22:40 UTC - 06:22 | Permalink

                Either plasticity in the texts or the texts are held together by only the thinnest strands of material leaving gaping holes that one can populate with all sorts of imaginings.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-17 21:00:47 UTC - 21:00 | Permalink

                I’m becoming more and more interested in mythicism. I read Carrier’s book “On The Historicity Of Jesus” a while back. The “James, the brother of the Lord” passage has always been a stumbling block for me. On the other hand, I’m open to new ideas, so I have ordered Lataster/Carrier’s book and Fitzgerald’s three new books, and so I’ll read them and see where that leaves me.

      • 2017-05-08 06:36:19 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

        Going with Mark and his “unimproved” version of the remark, Jesus offers a simple open-ended, no-deadline, cause-free sucker bet: the Temple will not last forever. No, it wouldn’t have, the laws of thermodynamics bite.

        Neither Jesus nor Mark nor anybody else need have made this up. Daniel had long since offered more specificity than Jesus did in Mark.

        Those huge stones you see in Jerusalem today are not from the Temple, I am told, but part of the earthworks for Herod’s expansion of the plaza (plus some additional stonework added long afterward). Apparently, the Romans did keep the Temple towers as lookout highpoints back in 70. I don’t know when those were finally removed.

        I sincerely doubt that any amount of residual intact stonework would matter to anybody looking through Jesus goggles. The reader who holds that (Mark’s) Jairus’ daughter was dead despite Jesus saying plainly that she wasn’t is unlikely to be bothered by a few undisturbed rocks.

  • mcduff
    2017-05-08 02:17:23 UTC - 02:17 | Permalink

    Some time ago I posted here around 8 or 9 anachronistic [ if g”Mark” is thought to be pre-temple] ‘elements’ from within g”Mark” that are each suggestive of a date of writing post 70 CE to post bar- Kokhba [130 CE].
    They include.
    1.g”Mark” 12.1-9 – the allegory of the vineyard – which refers to a post temple scenario
    2.Synagogues as teaching venues being unattested in the region until after the Roman Jewish War
    3.The reference to Jesus as ‘rabbi’ – a title not known to be used until late 1st century/post Roman-Jewish War
    4.G”Mark” 15.46 with its references to:
    [a] linen shrouds – not used until late 1st century
    [b] ‘rolling’ a presumably circular tomb stone – again not known to be used until late 1st century
    5.The reference to “Legion’ which some take to be a reference to X Fretensis and borrowed from Josephus – very late 1st century
    6.g”Mark’ 7.3 ‘all the jews wash their hands’ – known to be customary from the 2nd century
    7.g”Mark” 13.9 -‘beaten in synagogues’ when Christianity was not known to have split from Judaism until the 2nd century
    8.The reference to the Sea of Galilee as such when it was known as either Lake Gennasserat [sp?] or Lake Tiberias during the 1st and 2nd centuries – which may be a result of ignorance of the geography rather than chronological muddle.
    And, of course, the famous alleged temple destruction ‘prophecy’.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-05-08 04:54:32 UTC - 04:54 | Permalink

      Thanks (again) for this list.

      The heavily “midrashed” narrative of the passion and resurrection of Jesus is another point I sometimes wonder about. How long would such a narrative sourced from reevaluations of OT passages, including those referencing the fall of the temple (Isa 22:16), have taken to evolve? Is such a narrative based on the OT and with such direct relevance to the replacement of the Temple with the Church/Jesus have been something that arose quickly after the event? Or does the sophisticated detail and flow suggest, rather, quite some time of evolution before it reached the depiction we see in Mark?

      • mcduff
        2017-05-08 06:34:36 UTC - 06:34 | Permalink

        Yep, I also wonder about the person and the circumstances of the author himself [a fairly safe presumption it would be a he].
        Given the degree of literacy this is no mere village scribe minimally trained to cope with routine simple copying of bureaucratic forms and the like but a far more fluent and educated person than that role would require.
        Such a degree of literacy often displaying real artistic ability [the chiastic structures for example] would probably [?] include many years attending an academy of some sort and would suggest that the author is either from the wealthy privileged class or a specialist employee of such.
        Speculation.
        I wonder if anyone, preferably outside the guild, has made a stab at the mechanics of producing such a work as this – and other gospels.
        I remember Goulder suggesting “Matthew’ was a village schoolteacher or similar but my memory also informs me that I was not persuaded by his hypothesis.
        We really have only scratched the surface of many aspects of early Christian history.

  • Steven Watson
    2017-05-26 20:02:50 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

    Darth, Jesus ben Ananias’ prophecies said: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” and “Woe to Jerusalem”. Those are so vague you could read anything into them after the fact; even if he was making doing this four years before the war they count for not a lot. Pagels is indulging in the usual eisegesis common to New Testament “scholars”.

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