2017-11-25

Saul’s Folly: The King Can’t Be a Jack of All Trades

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by Tim Widowfield

King Saul

Brooding King Saul, detail from Ernst Josephson’s “David och Saul”

While thumbing through Cristiano Grottanelli’s Kings and Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, and Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative, I remember now why I snatched it up a couple of years ago. For some time now, I’ve been working on a simple thesis that would explain the silence regarding Jesus’ actual teaching in the epistles (of Paul, pseudo-Paul, and others).

The Threefold Office

Simply put, I suggest that the root of the issue arises from the earliest Christians’ conception of the messiah and to which office or offices he belonged. We see for example, in Paul’s discussion of the lineage of David, the concept of a kingly messiah. On the other hand, we see in the book of Hebrews a detailed conception of the messiah as priest.

However, in the earliest texts we see practically no hint of Jesus as prophet. Not until the gospels, written decades later, do we find concrete evidence — the strongest, of course, coming from Jesus himself. First in Mark:

But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (6:4, KJV)

Copied in Matthew:

And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. (13:57, KJV)

Edited in Luke:

And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. (4:24, KJV)

And referred to in John:

For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. (4:44, KJV)

These statements are obviously late and apologetic in character. They seek to explain why Jesus’ own family, village and nation rejected him. But they also point to a seismic shift in the conception of Jesus and which category (or categories) he belongs to. The identity of Jesus is bound up in Christians’ conception of him as king, priest, and (lastly) prophet.

These categories, by the way, would be further crystalized by later church writers such as Eusebius (Church History, Book I, 3:8) — 

And we have been told also that certain of the prophets themselves became, by the act of anointing, Christs in type, so that all these have reference to the true Christ, the divinely inspired and heavenly Word, who is the only high priest of all, and the only King of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets.

— and finally into the doctrine of the Threefold Office. Before that, with the Twofold identity of Jesus as priestly king, we have the Christ of the Epistle to the Hebrews who says nothing, but only acts to show his righteousness and obedience. We have the Christ of John’s Revelation who makes proclamations and judgments. Without that third office, Christ cannot be a teacher who inculcates disciples on Earth.

Poor Old King Saul

Some characters in the OT have combined the offices of warrior leader, prophet, and sacrificer. In the tribal era of the judges, charismatic war chieftans channeled God directly (filling the office of prophet) and performed ritual sacrifices. But by the time of the monarchy, these offices had to remain separate. The warrior king, of course, was a new thing. Before Saul, no human had borne the title of melekh.

Saul has always intrigued me. Truth be told, I’ve always felt sorry for him. You may have noticed that Vridar’s Facebook cover image is the Suicide of Saul.

It seems Saul couldn’t do anything correctly. He makes a fool of himself mixing in with ecstatic prophets.

And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam 19:24, ESV)

The people know that he has stepped out of his category. What is Saul? Is he a king, and a prophet? How is that possible?

He disobeys Yahweh and performs an unlawful sacrifice, to the disgust and rage of Samuel.

[13] And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. [14] But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Sam 13:13-14, ESV)

Saul is a king, not a priest, and not a prophet. Yet in this transition period, he doesn’t understand his proper place. In fact, he appears on the brink of madness.

Napoleon’s ulcer

And here we see that nugget theory of history recently discussed by Neil again raise its clownish head. Grottanelli warns against such readings of the text, based on that urge to salvage some narrative, historical logic from religious writings. They are, he argues, unified documents with narrative structure, albeit constructed from earlier traditions.

Even though this unity is a constructed and later development, it nonetheless responds to an intriguing design which, with many subtleties, informs every book of the text and the text as a whole. This tendency to avoid studying the books of the Old Testament as a unity that transcends its diverse sources, coupled with the search for “true” historical facts reconstructed on the basis of textual fragments, has generated the most childish of misunderstandings.

This being the case, it is not banal to state that the books of the Old Testament should be studied as any other text. It is right to apply to them, under the same constraints that apply to any other text, every new methodological approach that would clarify its entire semantic sense, its ideological intent, and its social and political value. They comprise a message, as does any other text, replete with a sender and a receiver. The books of the Old Testament are not simply a cauldron in which older texts or oral traditions are badly fused. (Kings and Prophets, pp. 87-88, emphasis mine)

The most common of these childish misunderstandings has to be the search for historical nuggets among constructed legends. He continues:

A few steps in this direction have been taken. They have left intact, however, a pseudohistorical prejudice, due to a naive reading that is still in search of the “true anecdote.” Such an approach fails to recognize that these texts comprise a semantic system in whose context the specific, individual propositions can be explained. At issue here is the opinion, which recurs even today among many scholars, that, at least for the second half of his life, King Saul was a poor unbalanced neurotic. In the final analysis it is to this historical fact (historical like Napoleon’s ulcer!) that Saul’s failure and David’s success are attributed.

The belief in such a historical “fact” arises from a rationalistic interpretation of those biblical passages where Saul acts in strange and absurd ways because he is possessed by an evil spirit. But this rationalism is not rational. It removes these specific biblical passages from the entirety of the biblical narrative concerning Saul and his successor David. This is precisely the context in which Saul’s “strange behavior” should be set in order to uncover the meaning the text attributes to them, which is, in fact, the only “true” meaning that we moderns ought assign to them as well. (Kings and Prophets, p. 88, emphasis mine)

Saul’s folly

Grottanelli contrasts Saul’s improper spirit possession, treading upon the turf of the prophets, and illegal sacrifice, impinging on the priest’s prerogative, against David’s correct behavior.

Throughout much of his career, David is followed, not by generic “prophets” or “priests,” but by the prophet Nathan and the priest Abiathar, who consults urim and tummim for him on all important occasions, especially in war. The figure of Nathan is particularly significant for David and for Israel, because it is through him that Yahweh communicates the oracle that promises an eternal reign to the Davidic dynasty (II Sam. 7:1-19). (Kings and Prophets, p. 98)

But Saul’s failures as a spirit-possessed prophet and a sacrificing priest, as bad as they are, pale in comparison to his failures on the field of battle — now confused, now cowardly, finally dying ignominiously by falling on his own sword (or else killed by an underling).

But even this is not enough: the king’s corpse is beheaded, the head being taken as a trophy, and his weapons hung in the temple of a foreign god (I Sam. 31:8—10). Finally, even the recovery of Saul’s corpse by his friends results in a funerary rite, which, although not given an explicitly negative cast in the biblical passage (I Sam. 31:11-13), passes beyond the strange to something negative in the context of the religious tradition of Israel. This is especially true if the treatment of Saul’s body can be likened to death by burning, which was reserved, in the Old Testament, for perpetrators of incest and for those who looted lands that were under a ban. (Kings and Prophets, p. 99)

Again, if we try to rescue history from such a purposefully didactic, legendary narrative we are engaging in pseudo-history. The function of the stories of Saul and David is to contrast the first king, who got everything wrong, with his successor, the ideal monarch of the fabled kingdom of Israel and Judah. That said, Grottanelli is not “erasing history” or being “overly skeptical” (whatever that means):

Let us not forget that the narrative form is the “most ancient form” of ideological expression, as is attested by primitive mythologies. Plato himself does not disdain this form of expression (recall the myths of Er and of the cave), but uses it alongside the discursive-dialogical form. An observation of this kind would not in the least deny every form of historicity (in the narrow and banal sense of the term) to the biblical narrative, but would only deny that type of historicity that attempts to attribute Saul’s failure to his mental disequilibrium, thus losing sight of the true value, indeed “historical,” of the biblical text as the conveyor of an ideology. (Kings and Prophets, p. 103, bold emphasis mine)

Enter Jesus

As noted earlier, the people, on seeing their king dancing with the prophets, possessed by the spirit and stripping off his clothes, wonder what it could mean. Saul had not only crossed category boundaries, but he was putting himself on the level of people without pedigrees. Recall that prophets came from the ranks of ordinary folk, as they should. They are “guarantors” of the faith, speaking directly from God. They don’t need an impressive lineage to prove themselves.

The prophets come, therefore, from “the people” (is this the “other side of the coin” in the criticism of Saul, who was both “noble” and “prophet”?) and not, for example, “from Levi,” like the priests, or “from David,” like the kings. The prophets are, therefore, “like Moses,” that is, like the charismatic leader of old, who enjoyed a direct relationship with the deity. This same Moses we find in the New Testament, as a mark of continuity, alongside Elijah and Jesus. As a healer and a seer from the countryside of Galilee, Jesus reminds the powerful of Jerusalem of their wickedness toward the prophets, and he acts through the power of the Spirit, which descended on him as it did on Saul. The continuity of the “prophetic function,” that true guarantor of Yahwism, did not pass away. (Kings and Prophets, p. 104) 

Conclusion

[Note: I have no reason to believe Cristiano Grottanelli would agree with anything that follows.]

When and under what circumstances did this prophet from the north, this true guarantor of Yahwism need to arise? I suggest that a cataclysmic Black Swan event is at the root of it. The Temple’s destruction and the utter defeat of the rebels in Judea signaled a break with the past. The kings and priests had failed. The Temple cult came to an end. The failure was absolute and complete.

At this point Yahwism split, one faction keeping the Torah through the study of the law, prayer, fasting, and rituals of commemoration. The other took a different path, venerating a second power in heaven, first as the true successor to kings and priests (especially the latter, as a method of ultimate atonement), and then as the true and final prophet of Yahweh.

The Gospel of Mark reveals this new conception of Jesus in bold, narrative form. He clashes with the cult leaders of his day and predicts the destruction of the Temple. He argues and wins against the Pharisees, the scribes, and the experts in the Torah, all of whom are stand-ins for the religious competition in Mark’s own time.

I want to make clear here that while the “prophetizing” of Jesus is compatible with mythicism, it doesn’t require it. Jesus may well have existed. What concerns me is the nearly complete lack of interest in Jesus’ life, times, and teachings in the earliest writings of Christianity. If Paul conceived of Jesus as the successor to David and the author of Hebrews thought of him as the ultimate priest, then we have a working hypothesis for why they did not conceive of him as a great prophet.

To put it more bluntly, I think Paul thought of himself as an apocalyptic prophet, but I don’t believe Paul ever thought of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.

And now new questions arise. Did the historical Jesus actually teach? And if he did, were those real teachings lost, or were they preserved in the oral tradition? If the historical Jesus was not a teacher, then where does the material in the gospels come from? From the Baptist cult, which they absorbed? Finally, in these scenarios, is a historical Jesus necessary to explain the evidence we have?

44 Comments

  • Dennis
    2017-11-25 20:18:49 UTC - 20:18 | Permalink

    Tim –

    Well-written article!

    Now, a preface: I am not, by any means, presenting any kind of “defense” of either an historic Jesus, nor of the apocalyptic-ness of Jesus, or any other such related facts or theories about Jesus.

    My basic thought is this: I think you may have totally missed the purpose and nature of Paul’s writings. And, for that matter, of pseudo-Paul, and the other epistles in general.

    None of those writings discuss much at all about “the person of Jesus”. Every single epistle is written to either individuals, or groups of individuals, who are *already believers* in “the risen Jesus”. These are people who have *already heard* the stories. Forget the gospels; these people heard the story from other people, and decided they believed.

    In the writings we have – ie, the Pauline epistles (for example) – there is no need for the writer to be re-telling “the gospel story”. In every case, that “gospel story” (whatever it may have been, and with whatever characterization of Jesus that might have been presented) is a “given”, an “understood”. Those epistles, without exception, are all proceeding from a view that “now that you have believed…”, and (generally speaking) go on to provide encouragement, exhortation, correction, etc, to those that already *know* about Jesus, what he was like, what he did, and so on.

    What I’m getting at, then, is this: If you’re looking for some “explanation” as to the “silence” of the epistle-writers on the topic of “the person of Jesus”, the simplest explanation is that there simply was no *need* to cover a topic that everybody already agreed on anyway – and hence – that’s why they were getting letters of encouragement, exhortation, and so on.

    Just an idea. But, I’ve often found that the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2017-11-26 14:33:39 UTC - 14:33 | Permalink

      The notion that Paul didn’t need to tell his readers anything that Jesus said or did because they knew everything already is in fact one of the most common explanations for Paul’s silence. I hesitate to call it the consensus, because that’s a moving target. In one moment today’s NT scholars say that Paul told us “a lot” about Jesus, and in the next, they’re fashioning arguments for why he told us practically nothing. This is a classic case of Kettle Logic.

      The “person” of Jesus comes through in Paul’s terms of address. He is “Lord.” He is “Christ.” His chosen emissaries are “apostles.” He never refers to Jesus’ ministry on Earth, his teachings, or his disciples. According to one theory, that’s because Paul was envious of the people who knew the historical Jesus personally. So he refers to himself and the “pillars” as apostles, which puts them all on the same level.

      But you must see what’s happening here. For each problem, for each bit of evidence that shows Paul knew nothing about Jesus on Earth, scholars look for a different excuse.

      Yes, the simplest explanation does tend to be the correct one, and the simplest explanation is the one that explains the entirety, not just one facet.

      • Dennis
        2017-11-26 18:37:09 UTC - 18:37 | Permalink

        Of course Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ”. That’s just the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah” – “annointed one”. What other word was he *supposed* to use when writing to Greeks???

        And, you say “his emisaries are ‘apostles'”, but, all you’re saying here is “his emisaries were emmisaries”… I mean, in Greek, “apostle” simply means “ones that is ‘sent out or ‘sent away'”? According to LSJ, it’s used in Greek commonly to refer simply to a messenger, sometimes referring to an “emissary” .

        The Big Question, then, is “what *else* would the ‘original 12’ have been called that you *wouldn’t* see as some kind of ‘high and vaunted title'”?
        .
        Don’t get me wrong: I’m *not* trying to say it *wasn’t* used as a “title”. I’m just saying that the title of “apostle” didn’t *mean*, to readers “back then”, the same “churchy, religious, hierarchical” thing that it (apparently) means to many today. Most of that kind of “significance” that is place on the word today – in the fashion that you are also placing significance on it – has to do with the over-glorification of the “Original 12”. They’ve somehow moved beyond merely being “men with a particular function” to being “almost god-like creatures of vaunted stature that the ordinary man cannot attain to”. And, I’d argue that that kind of characterization – the kind which it appears you must be using – was probably not at all the understanding in the first century. And, again, this is not to argue that the word “apostle” was not used as a title, nor is it to argue that those who bore that title were not regarded as “unique”. But, it gets down to that question I asked earlier: So *what* if they were called “apostles”? They were gonna get called *something*, weren’t they?

        And, what does this mean: “for each bit of evidence that shows Paul knew nothing about Jesus on Earth, scholars look for a different excuse”.

        If you could *show* me some “evidence” that “Paul knew nothing about Jesus on Earth”, I’d be real interested to see it. But, your whole argument is based on *silence*. It’s not like you have Paul, on one hand, saying “Jesus was born in Chicago, and migrated here with his family, and he went to India to study with a guru”, while on the other hand, every other writer is saying “Jesus was born in Bethlehem… (etc)”. All you’ve got is the fact that Paul simply *doesn’t* write about “Jesus here on Earth”.

        But, look – I know plenty of “religious” people, and when they talk to me or email me about “religious” (ie, “Christian”) things, they *never* talk about “Jesus on earth”. They’re talking about (for example) “how to live now, in this day and time”, and such day-to-day practicalities. Practically *never* do any of my Christian friends talk about “Jesus in the manger” except at Christmas. They might *make brief reference*, usually in an informal sense, to some of Jesus’ quotes, like “don’t judge others”, but the, Paul does exactly that same thing.

        So – look, if you can give me any *evidence* that Paul *didn’t* know anything about the Earthly Jesus, I’d be happy to consider it. But all you’re doing is making the same old tired “argument from Pauls silence”…

        • John Cabal
          2017-11-26 23:40:26 UTC - 23:40 | Permalink

          Some great points here! Very similar to the situation of Jane Austen and Quetzalcoatl.
          Very rarely in her writing does Jane Austen speak of the earthly life of Quetzalcoatl. And my believing friends very rarely speak of the earthly life of Quetzalcoatl either. But does that mean that Jane Austen was not familiar with the earthly life of Quetzalcoatl? It only shows that she and her audience may have been so familiar with the story of Quetzalcoatl that it did not need to be mentioned!
          Can anyone actually *show* me any *evidence* that Jane Austen didn’t know anything about the earthly life of Quetzalcoatl?
          I also have often found that the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.

          • Dennis
            2017-11-27 02:30:56 UTC - 02:30 | Permalink

            *yawn*

            • Tige Gibson
              2017-11-27 03:10:05 UTC - 03:10 | Permalink

              You’re not so much making a point as asserting that apologists have a point, when the whole point is that apologists have been having it too easy all this time until now.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-27 03:48:33 UTC - 03:48 | Permalink

                you’re right – I’d agree with what you’re saying about me “not making a point, except…”

                thing is, on *this* point, I believe the apologists *do* have a point.

                Look, we do this *same thing* in real life. For example, I had (still have) a good friend who was the boss at a software company. He hired me. Now, we had a lot of “history” before I got hired. We were good friends, and I could tell you all about the “historic buddy of mine”. But, at work? When we got “living out that life”? If he told me to be “team lead” over six other guys, I’d just go do it, and they’d do what I asked, because, well, “the Big Boss wants it this way”. I didn’t have to *preface* every instruction I gave with some “anecdote” of the “personal life of the historic Boss” – even though I had been hired, not only because of my skills, but *because we were friends*. But, when I’d write a memo to my team, I didn’t have to “back it up” by recounting some kind of “personal factoid about the Boss”. I was operating (as team lead) on a level *past* that.

                It’s just “normal stuff”, very “everyday stuff”. We do *exactly* that kind of stuff in relation to our own parents. We, as “kids”, do things in everyday life, *as life just goes on everyday*, based on a certain understanding of *who our parents are*. Among our siblings, we don’t sit around and talk about “Dad’s youth in Oshkosh, and how he served in the military in the Korean war”. We might *know* those things, and they are an important part of understanding Dad, but when it gets down to day-to-day living, we live as we do because “Dad” (who happened to be from Oshkosh, and served in the military, and so on) simply *wants us to behave in a certain way*.

                This is NOT “rocket science”, nor is it really even “great apologetics”. Paul, not writing about the “historic Jesus”, is not in the *slightest* bit surprising: he was writing to people who knew all about Jesus, just as he did. It was “common, and commonly-held knowledge”.

                There are no “magic tricks” involved in this point of view. Having a close, intimate relationship with a person *means* you know their history, or really, that you yourself know them “historically”. BUT – you continue to live a day-to-day life, over years, with that person, and it’s not *about* going back and “reminiscing” over that which you know so well already. You *know* this person, and, that is the *basis* for “getting on with life with them”…

                Really, I’m getting too long-winded on an almost stoopidly simple, everyday-life thing… There is just no need whatsoever to turn this point into some kind of point that “only an apologist would make”, because it’s almost stoopidly common sense…

            • Tim Widowfield
              2017-11-27 04:41:20 UTC - 04:41 | Permalink

              “Yawn”? You’re skating on thin ice, bud.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-27 04:43:14 UTC - 04:43 | Permalink

                and why would that be?

            • Tige Gibson
              2017-11-27 15:37:42 UTC - 15:37 | Permalink

              Jesus was not a person who had intimate personal relationships.

              I often find myself going back to Gilgamesh. On this one, Gilgamesh had an intimate personal relationship with Enkidu, and Enkidu had an intimate personal relationship with Shamhat. But while we only have a limited amount of information about Gilgamesh and Enkidu, we know they were legendary figures. Likewise, Jesus is undoubtably a legendary figure. The consequence of that fact is that there are lots and lots of stories about these figures which either originally were about other people and were changed or were simply made up out of whole cloth. This is why the work of apologists is suspect and not merely given a point.

          • Bob Moore
            2017-11-27 14:50:42 UTC - 14:50 | Permalink

            If I were in one of Paul’s churches I would have been keen to know absolutely everything possible about an actual God come down to live among us and would expect some replies from Paul.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-11-27 07:29:48 UTC - 07:29 | Permalink

          Dennis, I am not surprised you don’t indicate any knowledge of the counter-argument to the point you are making now. No doubt you do know the objections to your point but don’t feel it necessary to mention them because we all know them. Besides, there would not be much point in referring to them and answering them here because people would see the hollowness of what you are saying.

          So I conclude that your silence is not a reason to believe that you are unaware of the flaws in your argument. That would be an argument from silence, wouldn’t it, and hence worthless, right?

          • Dennis
            2017-11-27 16:31:53 UTC - 16:31 | Permalink

            Neil – you and I have talked before. And, it’s been some good conversations.

            Thing is, as best as I can remember, in our other conversations, if you had a point to be made, you just made it.

            You didn’t expect me to rummage through a rhetorical “example” to try to glean some point from it.

            So, make an argument, please. Don’t ask me rhetoricals and expect me to *accept* them as real-life arguments.

            I’ve made the point that Pauls silence needs no kind of “apologetics” to account for it: his silence on the “historical Jesus” need not be any more “confounding” than *my* silence about my “historical boss”, when writing memos of instructions (from him) to my staff members. Everybody *knows* the “historical boss”; heck, we all *work* there. Neither I nor my staff need to be reminded of the “personal life and times of the boss” every time I write a memo about something the boss wants us to do.

            But – Neil – do you see what I did there? I made a point; I didn’t ask you “rhetoricals” and expect you to make my argument for me.

            So, if you have an argument, please make it.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-11-27 20:29:15 UTC - 20:29 | Permalink

              Dennis, why do you declare, with attitude, arguments for a certain position as if they are all slam dunks and we have never encountered or considered them before? I am surprised that you should appear not to have actually read any of the reasons some scholars (not only mythicists) think Paul had no knowledge of a historical Jesus.

              Surely a most basic process before condescendingly addressing people here with your arguments you should have studied both sides of the question. But you appear to have heard only one side and run with it.

              The arguments against your assertions (again, what is offensive is the patronizing tone with which you present them) are widely available on the web, on this blog, and in publications.

              But your tone indicates that the reason you have not even considered the possibility that they exist is because you have no interest in examining both sides of the question as objectively as possible.

              (Unfortunately, that comes pretty close to being a troll. If you really want a discussion, a reasonable and open discussion, then you need to come across in a way that demonstrates that you do.)

              • Dennis
                2017-11-27 20:52:49 UTC - 20:52 | Permalink

                Neil –

                OK, we *have* had some good talks, and, my apologies if I sound either like I’m making a “slam dunk” argument or if I appear condescending.

                I do, indeed, know of and understand both sides of the “did Paul know the historic Jesus” argument.

                And, I really don’t think it’s at all an argument that can truly ever be settled.

                On one hand, you have some that argue from silence. On the other hand, you have others that argue that the silence is simply not “proof” of anything at all.

                And, that’s it. That’s always “the argument”.

                But then – you have those that don’t believe Jesus even existed (the mythicists). And, granted, if Jesus didn’t exist, as the mythicists believe, then clearly, Paul knew nothing about the “historic Jesus”.

                I have to admit a bias: I agree with those scholars that do indeed believe that Jesus existed. So, if I’m talking to a mythicist, then really, there’s no point in talking about Paul and his writings, in regards to whether Paul knew the “historic Jesus” or not. And yes, I’ll admit, it is my bias: I really don’t give the mythicists much credibilty. It’s all true. I have to own up to that.

                Having Said All That, in regards to “mythicists” in particular, then the issue, among those that agree there was indeed an “historic Jesus”, (rightly) becomes a discussion about whether Paul knew of the historic Jesus – and not whether Jesus existed.

                *That* is the discussion I’m more interested in, myself.

                My apologies if I don’t engage in that discussion with mythicists, but, as I’ve tried hard to express, that particular discussion is really about whether there was an historic Jesus in the first place. And, admittedly, from my perspective, that argument has long been held, and, I’ve come down on the side of those that believe there was an historic Jesus.

                I dunno. Maybe this greatly limits my “conversational abilities” in this thread; If everybody is a mythicist, then I can just leave it to you guys. That would be allright…

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-27 21:09:40 UTC - 21:09 | Permalink

                People who argue against mythicism, especially like this, sound like they’re arguing that Robin Hood was a real person, with no apparent understanding of what the underlying issue actually is.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-27 21:29:48 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

                Tige —

                Re: “People who argue against mythicism, especially like this, sound like they’re arguing that Robin Hood was a real person, with no apparent understanding of what the underlying issue actually is.”

                Sorry, but, I really didn’t even make an argument at all against mythicism. I simply said I had heard the arguments and I fall on the side of those that believe that Jesus was an actual, historic character.

                Really, I don’t engage in “contra-mythcist” arguments. In fact, I try hard to avoid them.

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 03:08:04 UTC - 03:08 | Permalink

                Your attitude shows dismissive contempt for mythicism, you feel you don’t need to present any argument, but assert your position anyway. And you don’t see the dissonance between what I said and your response, just reasserting your position blindly. Your attitude reeks of a Christian apologist.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-28 03:45:20 UTC - 03:45 | Permalink

                Bob Moore, Tige Gibson, et al…

                Honestly, guys, I didn’t get on this thread to argue “the existence of Jesus”. I simply pointed out, in reference to a line or two in the article, that Paul’s silence about Jesus was not necessarily indicative of anything, one way or the other. Heck, my guess is that you could go into one of 10000 churches next Sunday and have a real good chance of hearing some message preached from 1 Cor 13 (aka, “the love chapter”) – and never once would the preacher talk about “the historic Jesus”, unless maybe it’s one of those churches that does the “altar call” thing…

                Now – if Jesus didn’t exist? Clearly Paul couldn’t have known about a non-existent “historic Jesus”…

                But, the “existence of Jesus” is another ball of wax, and, I’m sorry, but it’s just not anything I need to debate with you guys on. I think it’s perfectly fine for you to take that view. Seriously.

                So, I’m just gonna tip my hat and excuse myself from this particular thread… You guys can all talk to each other about how Jesus didn’t exist. I’ve not no intention of interfering…

                Enjoyed it, sort of… Maybe see you on some other thread…

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 03:54:36 UTC - 03:54 | Permalink

                The fact that Christians don’t talk about a historical Jesus is a symptom of the exact same problem, not a valid explanation of it.

                By all means, you clinging to your position and running away instead of defending it is normal behavior for Christian apologists in my experience.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-28 04:02:49 UTC - 04:02 | Permalink

                oh, goodness, Tige – I’m not running away, rather than defending my position. I’m seriously just trying to *avoid* you.

                I’m sure that doesn’t take an “apologist” of any type, Christian or otherwise.

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 04:10:45 UTC - 04:10 | Permalink

                You’re seriously pretending that a position which you assertively hold and which you are unable to even begin to defend is not the reason why you are running away, you’re just coincidentally moving in that direction.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-11-28 06:50:56 UTC - 06:50 | Permalink

                Dennis, you are contradicting yourself. You clearly indicated that you had no idea what the answers to your arguments about Paul and Jesus were, yet when pushed to be open minded and actually check them out, you say,

                I do, indeed, know of and understand both sides of the “did Paul know the historic Jesus” argument.

                Prove yourself. Tell us what one of the key responses is to the claim that “everybody knew about the HJ so Paul didn’t have to talk about him.” What is the obvious, logical and clearly supported argument against that claim?

                Or have you never heard of it? I assume you are lying now when you say you do know the arguments. So prove me wrong.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-28 07:07:57 UTC - 07:07 | Permalink

                …..*tiptoeing quietly out the back door, hoping to get out before anybody notices*…

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-11-28 07:14:03 UTC - 07:14 | Permalink

                You are allowed to confess your ignorance and ask what the answer is, you know. But it seems you have no wish to know the other side to what you believe.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-28 07:43:09 UTC - 07:43 | Permalink

                whispering very quietly, as not to get too much attention: Neil – I’ve *heard* the other side already.. In case you didn’t know it, there are a lot more places than just in this blog to hear the other side. Some really well-written books. A couple of seminars I’ve been to. Some great video debates. Believe it or not,m a person can actually get *educated* on this stuff.. So, yeh… I’ve *heard* the other side. Thing is… I just don’t *believe* what I’ve heard, that’s all… *closing door quietly behind me*

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 17:23:45 UTC - 17:23 | Permalink

                Technically you can’t choose what you believe, hence the expression “I want to believe”, but only a dogmatic person would assert his belief (bearing in mind you were the one asserting here), and also assert that you can walk away without defending yourself. Christians do this all the time. You come off like a Christian apologist like David Marshall.

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 17:19:19 UTC - 17:19 | Permalink

                I’m going to go back to my previous thought. Is there something wrong with you?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-11-28 08:10:07 UTC - 08:10 | Permalink

                In other words you came here with your declamations as if they would make monkeys of us all but in actual fact you have no idea what the answers are to your arguments and you have not the slightest interest in knowing them, either.

                The benefit of that is that you can repeat your points to anybody who will give you a platform and always retreat to safety when challenged. Typical apologist.

              • Dennis
                2017-11-28 08:33:02 UTC - 08:33 | Permalink

                *standing outside the window, mouthing the words* “nooooooo… no monkeys….. forget my arguments…. they’re irrelevant to mythicists…. bye now”

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-11-29 09:30:26 UTC - 09:30 | Permalink

                I have put Dennis in our troll list. His comments will be moderated. I think Tim would have done it sooner had he been available.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-12-01 09:35:17 UTC - 09:35 | Permalink

                Dennis — I have trashed three of your comments. It’s a bit late to try to sound sincere without addressing any of the trolling and rudeness you’ve posted here. If you want your comments posted then demonstrate that you really have made a sincere effort to study the views that you so strongly oppose. We expect here fair-minded and honest discussion. When you do your homework come back here and prove you’ve learned a thing or two about both sides of the question (not just what enemies of one side say about the other side) and refrain from rudeness and you’ll be welcome.

            • Tige Gibson
              2017-11-27 20:34:54 UTC - 20:34 | Permalink

              Is there something wrong with you? We all have too many people who advocate for apologetics. We simply don’t need any devil’s advocates. You claim that you don’t need apologetics to make your point, but you do. We don’t have a written gospel from Paul’s time, so the particular silence you are defending is actually deafening.

              • Bob Moore
                2017-11-28 03:08:59 UTC - 03:08 | Permalink

                Re. “On one hand, you have some that argue from silence. On the other hand, you have others that argue that the silence is simply not “proof” of anything at all. And, that’s it…”

                Dennis, aren’t you stuck with the false dilemma argument? For one thing, my Hebrews 8.4 citation was an example of the epistles’ arguments from non-silence (a third option). And wouldn’t a fourth option be the claim that the mythicist is not arguing from “absence of evidence” but from “evidence of absence”? The latter is evidence of any kind that suggests something is missing or that it does not exist. Bayesian logic provides that evidence.

              • Tige Gibson
                2017-11-28 03:24:24 UTC - 03:24 | Permalink

                The actual argument of mythicism isn’t based on silence though. It’s based on abstraction of the character of Jesus. If you were to take Jesus out and replace him with an unknown figure who wasn’t important to anyone in the present, what could you make out of him? The answer is nothing, but not because of silence, because of what we are told about him, especially as the later texts struggle to elaborate on him. Comparatively, if you were to replace King Arthur or Robin Hood from either of their legends, you wouldn’t have the same problem at all because the legends and narratives are inherently personal, but you would still not consider either of those figures historical despite them being more human and more recent.

                Even the fact that there is an argument about whether Jesus was or was supposed to be a priest begs the question of how a spiritual being could function as a priest, since priests are supposed to mediate the relationship between physical and spiritual beings. Jesus essentially breaches the need for priests by allowing people direct access to God through him, but Christians screwed that up by forming their own priest class.

              • Bob Moore
                2017-11-30 04:56:18 UTC - 04:56 | Permalink

                Tige, I’m wondering if you misunderstand me. I’m saying my citation of Heb 8.4 shows that in that instance that the mythicist argument is not based on silence concerning an earth-dwelling Jesus. The instance rather shows that the author positively claims that Jesus was not on earth when he performed his priestly self sacrifice.

                Furthermore I’m trying to show that the claim by historicists, that other mythicist arguments are ones from silence, is a false claim. Our argument is rather one that uses Bayesian evidence that something is missing. That is called an argument from “the evidence of absence” which is not the same thing as an argument from silence.

        • db
          2017-11-28 04:02:56 UTC - 04:02 | Permalink

          Mitchell, James (1908). Significant Etymology: Or, Roots, Stems, and Branches of the English Language. William Blackwood and sons. pp. 428, note 1. “The word apostle (Gr. apostolos —”apo”, away, and “stello”, to send) means one sent out by another, then one sent on important business, and is now confined almost entirely to those sent forth by Christ on the most important of all business, and so called apostles.

          The term appears to be banal Koine Greek. Other possible terms that could be used e.g. (kósmos, “universe”) + (naútēs, “sailor”); (chréstos, “good”) + (ággelos, “delegate”); etc.

          The simplest reason why Paul used the term apostolos is that other cults already used the term in a similar fashion.

          The simplest reason why Paul used the term kýrios is that other cults already used the term in a similar fashion, e.g. “Pray come dine with me today at the table of the Kýrios Serapis”.

  • Jay Raskin
    2017-11-26 01:13:03 UTC - 01:13 | Permalink

    Good article, Tim, it clarifies a lot about Saul. It is hard to know where history stops and propaganda or myth begins. We can see the ideology happening today. Take the Harvey Weinstein case. Making 330 independent films outside of he six major Hollywood studios, he is clearly the greatest independent filmmaker of our time. He apparently combined the roles of producing films and casting films, which all independent filmmakers have done, as against the major studios who stopped the practice in the 1960s. The attacks against him as a great villain – sexual harasser, assaulter and rapist of people reflect the pure ideological fantasies of the Gender-feminists priestesses who see all men as, by definition, always sexual harassers, assaulter and rapists.
    They suppress the simple truth that the accusers all saw a mutual benefit in having sex with Weinstein. They could have sexual pleasure and gain movies roles, money and power. It was a win-win situation, and that is why they set about seducing him. The accusers were disappointed decades later when their movie roles, money and power faded due primarily to their use of drugs and the fact that young people who make up the bulk of the movie going audience enjoy seeing actresses in their teens and 20s in leading roles in movies and thus there are less important roles for actresses in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
    So perhaps there was a King named Saul or maybe he was invented as contrast to David and Solomon. Perhaps Saul did act as a priest, or maybe they were just stories planted against him centuries later. Maybe the anti-Roman Jewish Priests of early Christianity picked up on the anti-King/Priest combination because the Roman emperors combined the roles of Kings and head priests.
    In the Weinstein case, his greatness as a film producer is all history, the retelling of his history (an anti-history) as a cautionary Gender-feminist tale of proof that men are oppressors is all fiction.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2017-11-26 14:11:27 UTC - 14:11 | Permalink

      I’m trying to read what you’ve written about Weinstein as some sort of hip satire, but it isn’t working.

      Weinstein was and is a sexual predator. Note the stories about his visiting a sex-addiction clinic to “get well.” As is always the case with the wealthy, it’s a disease, not a crime. All part of the drama, too, is his company which officially now is “shocked” and “disturbed” by his payoffs to accusers over the years. They simply had no idea that he was giving hush money to his victims.

      When people like you defend Weinstein and blame the victims for coming forward too late, being gold-diggers, lying for profit, etc., women get the message: “Shut up. If you complain, they’ll blame you, and you’ll never work again.”

      • Tige Gibson
        2017-11-27 15:43:48 UTC - 15:43 | Permalink

        The timing of this news is a consequence of the seeming powerlessness and desperation when it comes to the abuses of Trump and most other Republicans. Weinstein is a powerful figure who was proved can be caught, and dominos started falling, but Trump, Moore and his ilk are still untouchable.

  • Bob Moore
    2017-11-26 18:45:58 UTC - 18:45 | Permalink

    Tim, I’m sure you know that it’s not pre black swan conditions that explain Jesus’ historical silence in the epistles. And you know that the fall of the city & temple do explain the pseudo historical wordiness of the Gospels. I take it that you’re hoping historicists would wake up to the facts. They can’t even appreciate clear statements like Hebrews 8.4: “Now if he [Jesus] were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.”
    But, regarding the name, Saul, I’ve never understood the motive of ACTS for giving Paul such a blemished name. Would any parent really do that to their child?

    • Dennis
      2017-11-26 20:11:56 UTC - 20:11 | Permalink

      re: “But, regarding the name, Saul, I’ve never understood the motive of ACTS for giving Paul such a blemished name. Would any parent really do that to their child?”

      According to aish.com, probably the leading Jewish website, Saul (Shaul) is listed with the most common Jewish names, right along with Reuven (Reuben) and Seth.

      Apparently, parents really would “do that to their child”….

      (honestly, this kind of stuff reminds me of “conspiracy theory” junk, really..)

      • Bob Moore
        2017-11-27 02:09:32 UTC - 02:09 | Permalink

        I’m sure some are honored to be named after the “George Washington” of the Hebrew Kings list (if they overlook Saul’s “failures”). It would be interesting to know the frequency of use in ancient times.

  • Tige Gibson
    2017-11-30 17:09:44 UTC - 17:09 | Permalink

    Even if the verse sounds like it’s in my favor, Hebrews is not considered authentic, but even if it were, a single verse or paragraph could be a later edit or insertion. And as I said in the post on canon, it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to be a priest in heaven, so the verse is part of the ancient Christian tradition of deliberately applying confusion to beliefs which make no sense rather than actually questioning where Jesus was. What it avoids saying is that prior to Jesus BEING the sacrifice, you didn’t actually need a priest to make a sacrifice for you, and if you were in heaven with God in person it would make even less sense to need a priest. Out of this comes the justification for the Christian priest class, which is unnecessary according to other Christian texts. Christian priests and pastors don’t do sacrifice, like priests of all other religions they presume to mediate communication with the spiritual realm, at least through a magical quality of “discernment”.

    I would assume that any mythicist arguing here knows what he’s talking about and anyone arguing against mythicism doesn’t have any idea what it’s about and probably doesn’t care either. Just because I respond to you doesn’t mean I don’t agree. I’m saying it isn’t Bayesian all the way down. For example, we know that Sherlock Holmes is definitely 100% fictional, but was based on a real person named Joseph Bell, the exact same thing could be true of Jesus, 100% fictional but based on a real person named Jeshua. I didn’t need to use Bayes theorem just now.

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