Category Archives: Gospel of Matthew


Digging beneath the Gospels to find an imaginary Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Christ_Myth_theoryJoel Watts, now a masters of theological studies, has posted The Schizophrenia of Jesus Mythicists. Since I am always on the lookout for serious arguments addressing the Christ myth argument I had hoped that, despite a title imputing mental illness to those who argue Jesus was a myth, I would find engagement with a mythicist argument. But, sadly, no.

Watts does not want anyone to think he is merely defending a faith-position. He explains that his post is about “verifiable proof” and is not a “matter of faith”.

I can accept that approach. Faith is about things we cannot prove or see. Verifiable proofs would undermine faith. One can only believe Jesus was resurrected and is God etc. by faith. (Does not N.T. Wright undermine faith in the resurrection of Jesus when he claims to have historical proof of the resurrection?)

But here Watts is talking about the historical man, Jesus. His faith presumably would be harder to sustain if there were no generally recognized human of history at the start of it all. So, like Marxists, he must first believe in history.

Here is his argument against mythicists and for “verifiable proofs”: read more »


The earliest gospels 4 – Matthew (according to P L Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey
Matthew Evangelist. The text also says - Abrah...

Image via Wikipedia

This post follows on from four earlier ones that are archived here. (That is, it’s take on the Gospel of Matthew is entirely my understanding of Paul Louis Couchoud’s analysis of this gospel as a reaction to what he believes to have been the original Gospel produced by Marcion. Quotation page references are from Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ”. Scholarship has moved on since the 1920 and 30’s obviously, but some of the concepts raised — not all of them uniquely Couchoud’s by any means — are worth consideration nonetheless and have the potential to be adapted to the broader question of Gospel origins even today.)

The Gospel attributed to Matthew was composed in Aramaic speaking regions of eastern Syria and northern Mesopotamia where the Jewish population was numerous and Christians were mostly from Jewish backgrounds, says Couchoud. It was written in Aramaic, among a Christian community that saw itself as literally related to the ethnical Israel, and in response to both the Gospel attributed to Mark, said to have been Peter’s scribe, and the Gospel of Marcion. Mark’s gospel was believed to have been too pro-Pauline and anti-Law for their liking.

This scribe who wrote this new gospel structured it in 5 parts in apparent imitation of Moses’ 5 book presentation of the Law. Each part contained narratives and precepts. (The birth narrative at the beginning and Passion at the end formed a prologue and epilogue to this five-part book. The work was to be attributed to a credible eyewitness, so substituted Matthew, a disciple very well known in the Aramaic region where he and his readers were (Matthew’s tomb was reported as being located there around ca 190), for Marcion’s and Mark’s publican named Levi.

This scribe (to be called Matthew) expressed his own view with the parable of Jesus teaching that the new faith is a precious mix of the new and the old. So he did not discard the old as Marcion had done.

Matthew’s primary purpose was to demonstrate far more clearly than Mark had done that Jesus was the Messiah who was the fulfilment of Old Testament scriptures. He liberally adds OT quotations to make his point. read more »


Jesus with Isaac in Gethsemane: And How Historical Inquiry Trumps Christian Exegesis

by Neil Godfrey

Other uses for clubs and knives: Flickr photo by Meyer Potashman

Edited with explanatory note on Jesus not struggling with his sacrificial vocation — Dec 2, 2011, 08:10 am

This post concludes the series outlining Huizenga‘s thesis that Matthew created his Jesus as an antitype of Isaac. The earlier posts are:

  1. Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew — this examines the Jewish beliefs about the Isaac offering narrative before the Christian era;
  2. Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence — this surveys Jewish and some Christian beliefs about Abraham’s offering of Isaac in the early Christian era;
  3. Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac — a synopsis of the Isaac allusions to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew up to the Gethsemane scene.

This post concludes my presentation of Huizenga’s chapter The Matthean Jesus and Isaac  in Reading the Bible Intertextually. It first addresses verbal allusions and thematic correspondences between Genesis 22 and the Gethsemane and arrest scenes in the Gospel of Matthew; it concludes with a consideration of the reasons the Gospel author may have used Isaac in this way and the significance of his having done so. I also draw attention to Huizenga’s argument that while we have historical evidence for the likelihood of Isaac being used as a recognizable model for Jesus we have only later Christian exegesis to support the more widely held current view that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant was used as Matthew’s template.

What follows assumes some knowledge of the posts that have preceded. read more »


Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac

by Neil Godfrey

I forgot to conclude a series I began some weeks ago so let’s at least start to bring this one to a close. I was discussing Leroy Huizenga’s thesis that the Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew has been crafted from the Jewish stories of Isaac. Two reasons this has not been noticed before are suggested. Matthean scholarship has been

  1. “fixated on the formula quotations to the exclusion of other forms of Matthean intertextuality”;
  2. “redactional-critical, not narrative-critical”

. . . thus, scholars miss the cumulative narrative force of the many allusions to Isaac. (p. 70, The Matthean Jesus and Isaac in Reading the Bible Intertextually)

The previous two posts in this series covered various Jewish views of the sacrifice of Isaac in the pre-Christian and early Christian eras. Isaac came to be understood as going willingly and obediently to his sacrificial death, offered up primarily by God himself, with his sacrifice having a saving or atoning power. All this happened at Passover and on the Temple M0unt. Some of the following post will make more sense if those two previous posts are fresh in mind.

(In what follows I single out some of the more striking features of the argument and am not attempting to reproduce all of the facets and nuances Huizenga addresses. Much will be assertions of examples of intertextuality with only a little of the argument for them. This post is an outline of a chapter that is a synopsis of a thesis.) read more »


Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

by Neil Godfrey
'Akedah: Abraham Offering Isaac'

Image by sarrazak6881 via Flickr

If one reads the Genesis 22 account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac there is very little reason to think that it has very much to do with the details of the Gospel narrative about Jesus. And that’s the problem — it is too easy to read Genesis 22 as if the canonical text so familiar to us was all there was to read and know among Jewish readers of the Second Temple pre-Christian era.

Some scholars neglect the potential significance of Isaac for the Gospel of Matthew due to an anachronistic and often reflexive focus on the canonical forms of Old Testament texts. (p. 64, The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia, Leroy Andrew Huizenga, in Reading the Bible Intertextually)

Huizenga uses the analogy of the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopedia to explain. It has been customary to compare specific details of Gospel narratives with potentially corresponding texts in the Old Testament and decide on the basis of one to one correspondences of semantics whether there is a real relationship between the two. This is like consulting a dictionary to find a direct one-to-one theoretical explanation of a word. A better approach is to explore relationships through “an encyclopedia” that speaks of actual experiences in the way the words have been used and interpreted in cultural knowledge and traditions. In short, this means that

Scholars must ask how Old Testament texts were actually understood within Jewish culture when the New Testament documents were written and not assume that any “plain meaning” of our canonical Old Testament text was the common, obvious, undisputed first-century meaning. (p. 65)

So when one reads in Matthew what appears to be a verbal allusion to Genesis 22, it is valid to ask what that allusion meant to those whose understanding of Genesis was shrouded in other literary traditions and theological ideas of the time. It is not just about what we read in our canon. It is about what Jews of the day wrote and understood and acted upon in relation to their scriptures that is the key.

So what did the Jews make of the story of the binding of Isaac (the Akedah)? read more »


Gospel Prophecy (and History) through Ancient Jewish Eyes: The Massacre of the Innocents

by Neil Godfrey
10th century

Image via Wikipedia

I used to be always a little troubled or at least mystified by the way the author of the Gospel of Matthew found “a prophecy” for Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” (all the infants two years old and under) in Bethlehem in hopes of killing off the one born to replace him as king of the Jews. The prophecy of this event was found in this verse in Jeremiah 31:15, but that passage is not a prediction of anything. Was Matthew twisting scriptures or what?

Matthew 2:16-18

16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children who were in Bethlehem and in all the region thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

18“In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are no more.”

To get some idea of why this particular prophecy is at the least a little mystifying, here is the verse in Jeremiah’s context: read more »


Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman

by Neil Godfrey
(Edited with additional headings and discussion of the different kinds of Jesus portrayed - an hour after original posting.)
(Again edited 8 Dec 2011)
Ressurection of Jairus' daughter

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As someone rightfully said in relation to my earlier post on this theme, Matthew’s “Misunderstanding” of Mark’s Miracle Stories,

It’s interesting what you can discover when you closely compare the two. Nothing beats a close reading of the texts.

In discussion following a recent post the question was raised why Matthew lacks Mark’s reference to Jairus being a synagogue ruler. (He also omits the name Jairus).

I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to that particular question, but in searching for possible explanations I did notice a number of other interesting differences between the two miracle narratives that indicate quite different agendas of the two authors. One detects not an interest in recording historical detail but in creating a Jesus who fulfils certain quite different expectations and narrative functions. (This is a tendency well known to historical Jesus scholars. But the implications for historicism or mythicism is a separate question from what I am addressing here. I am interested in understanding the nature of the Gospels more fully, in this instance by comparing the way two of them treat a particular narrative.) read more »


If the first readers of Luke’s Gospel also knew Matthew’s . . . .

by Tim Widowfield

. . . . What would they make of the different birth narratives?

The Gospels of All Christians (edited by Richard Bauckham) appeared about twelve years ago challenging the idea that each of our canonical gospels was tailored for a particular community audience: Mark, say, for Romans, Matthew to a church in Syria, etc.

The reasons for this argument, and the reasons for the original paradigm that each of the gospels was the product of a distinct community, are subjects for another post. I have been particularly interested in the subject of intertextuality — the dialogue one can see among both New and Old Testament works. Thomas L. Thompson is one scholar who in particular has addressed evidence for various prophetic works such as Isaiah and Hosea “speaking” to each other — taking up themes that one has raised and presenting an alternative side of the discussion.

I have tended to think of Matthew’s treatment of Mark’s Gospel as an example of the same process continuing into the Christian era. The point is that Matthew was addressing the same audience that knew Mark’s Gospel, and not that Mark wrote for one local audience while Matthew somehow got hold of Mark’s work and re-wrote it for a different community with different views about the role of Peter, the Law, etc. Similarly with Luke’s treatment of Mark. There are limits to this model, however. There clearly were Christian groups who bluntly opposed certain Gospels, and we can think of Marcion accepting none other than a form of the Gospel of Luke. So I am not suggesting that there was one happy universal Christian family open to every revision that came along. Far, far from it. But I have difficulties with the idea that each gospel was written for localized communities. The matters and themes they address are too universal for that to concept to fit well.

But when we take this model — that the gospels were written for (more or less) “all Christians” — then we come back to our old question of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew. read more »


How Joseph was piously invented to be the “father” of Jesus

by Neil Godfrey
Georges de La Tour. St. Joseph, the Carpenter
Image via Wikipedia

This post continues from the previous one about John the Baptist’s parents. It’s a sharing of my reading of John Shelby Spong’s Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes . . .. I covered in that earlier post the rationale for searching the Old Testament scriptures for an understanding of the Gospel author’s choices of names and narrative episodes.

Spong begins his discussion of Joseph by reminding readers how “shadowy” he is in the Scriptures. Much legend has accrued around him since the Gospels were written, but the New Testament has very little to say about him at all.

The earliest Christian evidence

Neither he nor Mary appears at all in Paul’s writings.

At the very least, we can state that to the degree that Paul represented Christianity in the fifth, sixth, and seventh decades of this common era, there was no interest in Jesus’ origins or his parentage at that stage in the development of the Christian story.

. . . Paul’s writing gives us no indication that he had ever heard of or had any interest in the miraculous birth traditions. (p. 202)

Spong emphasizes the indications in Paul’s letters that Paul thought Jesus’ birth was quite normal. He points to Galatians 4:4 (“born of a woman”) and Romans 1:3 (from David “according to the flesh”). Others have noted, however, that one does not naturally refer to anyone’s birth as being “of a woman” or “according to flesh”! I would expect to get strange looks if in any conversation I managed to explain that I or anyone present was “born of a woman”! That such apparently obvious truisms are made explicit does raise questions about the intent of such phrases in Paul’s letters. But I’ll continue here with Spong’s explanation.

The next Christian evidence read more »


Jesus, constructed from Moses and other OT passages — according to the Gospel of Matthew

by Neil Godfrey

One of the first books I read when beginning to question my faith was one that struck my eye while scanning the shelves of a local bookshop, John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.

Moses mosaic on display at the Cathedral Basil...

Image via Wikipedia

It introduced me to many issues being addressed by biblical scholars. I have told the story before, but I like it enough to tell it again: I later had the opportunity to thank Spong personally for assisting me on my journey that took me to atheism. (I don’t think I appreciated at the time that he suffered some grief over his own mentor, Michael Goulder, becoming an atheist, too.)

One observation that Spong addressed was the respective thematic treatments of Jesus in each of the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, depicted Jesus as grounded in the Jewish heritage of the Old Testament literature, and especially as a new Moses figure. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, portrayed Jesus as having stronger associations with a Gentile community. None of this suggested to me that Jesus himself had no historical basis, but it did help reinforce the idea that the Gospels were themselves literary constructs that stood apart from any clear link to a historical person.

Here is what Spong wrote about Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as a Moses figure (identified with *), mingled with a few other linkages of Jesus with Jewish scriptures. read more »


Jesus Not Being Good Is No Embarrassment

by Neil Godfrey
Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me
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Matthew was embarrassed by Mark’s Gospel that had Jesus effectively saying that he was not good. Only God is good

And . . . . a person ran up to [him], and kneeling to him asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

But Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? no one is good but one, [that is] God. (Mark 10:17-18)

Matthew deftly shuffles the word order to have them come out of Jesus’ mouth with a sleightly different meaning.

And lo, one coming up said to him, Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have life eternal? ‭

And he said to him, What askest thou me concerning goodness? one is good. (Matthew 19:16-17)

Modern theological scholars are also said to be embarrassed by Mark’s Jesus, and no doubt it remains a puzzling point for many other Christians, too: read more »


Peter, in the Enoch tradition, commissioned to replace the High Priest?

by Neil Godfrey
Jesus Gives the Keys to Peter
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How do we account for Christianity growing out of Judaism yet being so unlike Judaism? Part of one possible answer lies in the recognition that there was no normative Judaism as we understand it prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Noncanonical Second Temple writings such as the Book of Enoch point to the existence of Jewish sectarians who had radically different ideas about contemporary Temple practices and priesthood, cosmology, the law, wisdom, even the angelic world and Godhead prior to the rise of rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. Margaret Barker and others have noticed quite a few distinctively Christian ideas resonating in some of these early books such as the Book of Enoch and that came to be sidelined by later Jewish rabbis. We know, of course, that the Book of Enoch is even quoted in New Testament writings.

This post continues earlier ones taken from a 1981 Journal of Biblical Literature article by George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee”. (Note, though, that I am not reproducing many of N’s details. This post is only a selection of the points he makes.)

It considers the details of Peter’s commissioning as the Rock of the Church in the context of narratives found in Enoch and their adaptations again later in the Testament of Levi (pre-Christian version). Peter emerges as a possible replacement to the High Priest of the Temple, which was, of course, doomed to destruction. The story of Peter and his role in the Gospel of Matthew, at least, grew out of that branch of Jewish religion that opposed the Temple practices and drew upon writings such as the Book of Enoch that did not make it into the rabbinic and later Christian orthodox canon.

I suspect the narrative was composed long after the temple’s destruction, and is an etiological tale to explain how the Church is now the new Temple and Kingdom of God with the Jews having been punished be destruction, slavery and scattering.

read more »


Why Matthew and Luke changed details of Mark’s sabbath dispute

by Neil Godfrey

Little details, such as Matthew turning a Pharisee’s statement in Mark into a question, and Luke adding the little word “some” to Mark’s account, on closer inspection turn out not to be haphazard variations, but evidence that the gospel authors were more focused on creative story telling than passing on “traditions”.

The example of this that I noticed most recently is the slightly variant accounts of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees over his disciples’ corn-plucking on the sabbath. (I was thinking through James Crossley’s argument for these different accounts revealing evidence that Mark was written before “the church” experienced any controversy over sabbath observance. In his efforts to uncover “assumptions” being made by Mark, and reliance on a presumed Aramaic source text, he misses much of what actually is there to be seen on the surface.)

Here are some of the differences: read more »


Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical

by Neil Godfrey

I intend to demonstrate in a series of posts that there is legitimate room for informed, rational, scholarly debate over the historicity of certain events in the so-called life of Jesus. To disagree with E. P. Sanders and “mainstream scholarly opinion” is by no means to be equated with failing to engage the views and arguments of E. P. Sanders and other scholars sharing a majority viewpoint.

Yet public intellectuals from the field of biblical studies have disgraced themselves by declaring that if so-called “mythicists” disagree with the conclusions of the likes of E.P. Sanders and “the mainstream” they are comparable to “Young Earth Creationists”. (It is Intelligent Design advocates who misrepresent their opponents’ arguments and fail to engage directly with the substantial thrust of the literature they oppose, while “mythicists” do indeed engage seriously and with “mainstream literature”, while “historicists” have tended to remain apparently lazily ignorant and willing to distort and misrepresent mythicist arguments. So if the insulting comparison is to be made at all, it would seem to apply more to the “historicists” than to “mythicists”.) Associate Professor James McGrath inferred that the arguments of E.P. Sanders in chapter 1 of his book, Jesus and Judaism, are of sufficient strength and repute to justify ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees with the historicity they supposedly affirm. Hence this post as the first of a series.

Before beginning, for what it’s worth, I do not see myself as a “mythicist”. I cannot see the point of taking such a stand — either mythicist or historicist — in any debate. (I don’t like adversarial debates anyway. I’m more an exploration and testing type of guy.) What surely matters is the examination of the evidence in attempting to understand Christian origins. The point is to be as intellectually honest as we can wherever the evidence and out testing of our hypotheses lead.

E. P. Sanders on the historicity of the Temple Act of Jesus

Image by djking via Flickr

I will not at this point address all the arguments of E. P. Sanders over what is more widely known as the “cleansing of the temple” scene. Most of his argument is, in effect, an analysis of various proposed reasons or motives for the temple act of Jesus. As such, it assumes historicity of Jesus. To the extent that his argument does address historicity, Sanders is arguing that Jesus must have done something in relation to the temple, otherwise we are left with no explanation for his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. I see this sort of analysis as an exercise in exposition of a literary narrative. It is misguided to assume without external supporting evidence that such an exercise necessarily yields up “evidence” of an “historical fact” external to that text. But for now, I will focus on the assumption of historicity per se, and not address each and every one of Sander’s “extremely common” ‘aprioristic’ points (i.e. ‘if Jesus did X, he must have done Y’) (p.9). I will reserve these for a future post when addressing Sander’s discussion of his method and the nature of a “good hypothesis”.

Sanders “establishes” the historicity of the Temple Act before commencing his attempt to explain its specific nature and motive. Indeed, it is its “indisputable” historicity that he claims is his justification for his chapter 1 discussion.

Sanders begins by noting the problems with gospel passages that narrate the temple incident (p. 9, my formatting):

  1. there is neither firm agreement about the unity and integrity of the basic passages concerning the ‘cleansing of the temple’
  2. nor is there absolute certainty of the authenticity of either or both of the sayings about the destruction of the temple.

Despite all this, it is overwhelmingly probable that Jesus did something in the temple and said something about its destruction. (p.9)

To justify his assertion that it is “overwhelmingly probable” that a real historical event lies behind the narratives, Sanders explains:

The accusation that Jesus threatened the temple is reflected in three other passages: the crucifixion scene (Matt. 27.39f.//Mark 15.29f.); Stephen’s speech (Acts 6.13f.); and with post-Easter interpretation, in John 2.18-22. The conflict over the temple seems deeply implanted in the tradition, and that there was such a conflict would seem to be indisputable. (p.9)

This is called in the literature an example of “multiple, independent attestation”. We have three sources (the synoptic gospels, Acts and John), all presumably independent of one another, saying something like the same thing. This, it is argued, strongly suggests that we have three independent witnesses to a tradition that must be traced back to something Jesus really did do or say.

Later, Sanders again writes (p. 73):

. . . the tradition contained in [John 2.19], Mark 14.58, Matt. 26.61, Mark 15.29, Matt. 27.40, and Acts 6.14: Jesus threatened the destruction of the temple (and perhaps predicted its rebuilding after three days).

We seem here to be in touch with a very firm historical tradition, but there is still uncertainty about precisely what it is.

I will unpack the assumption of the “tradition” as the common source below. For now, I will note only that it is by no means certain that the author of Acts who composed the speech of Stephen was unaware of the Gospel of Mark. Many scholars seem to think that this author also wrote Luke, and that he used Mark in composing his gospel. Nor is it certain that the author or redactor of the Gospel of John responsible for the temple incident in that gospel did not know Mark’s gospel. The common literary structure of the trial narrative in the two gospels is the most obvious point in common between the two. Overviews of modern scholarly discussions of the possibility of John’s knowledge of the synoptic gospels generally and Mark in particular can be found in D. Moody Smith’s John Among the Gospels, available in part online. See in particular chapter 6, The Dissolution of a Consensus.

So scarcely before we can begin a discussion of the historicity of the temple act, Sanders’ suggestion that we have three independent witnesses to a “tradition” is shown not to so secure if we allow the discussions among “mainstream scholars” be our guiding reference point.

Paula Fredriksen’s on the “scholarly consensus” in relation to the Temple Act

Paula Fredriksen certainly accepts some form of temple act as historical, but also has the honesty to write:

In research on the historical Jesus, however, no single consensus interpretation ever commands 100 percent of the scholarly opinion. . . . Other critics, rightly observing the crucial role played by the Temple incident in Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ story — without it, Mark would have difficulty bringing Jesus to the attention of the priests — question whether it ever happened at all. Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention. (p. 210 of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews – my emphasis)

Fredriksen is not ignorant of E. P. Sanders’ views. She cites Jesus and Judaism in her biography and makes frequent use of his ideas throughout her work. I suspect she is thinking in particular of Burton Mack when she writes: “Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention.” Mack’s A Myth of Innocence is also listed in her biography.

Burton Mack’s’ argument for the Temple Act being fiction

The act itself is contrived. Some gesture was required that could symbolize both casting out and taking charge with some level of legitimacy.

Demons would be too much, since Jesus is about to be taken. It would, in any case, have been implausible. But filthy lucre would do just fine. Taxes and the temple treasury had been hot political issues underlying much of the history of conflict between Jerusalem and Rome. The citations from Isaiah and Jeremiah could put Jesus on the safe side of the conflict, motivated by righteous indignation. Jewish authorities (scripture) could be used against Jewish practice. The subtheme of temple robbery, moreover, given with the citation from Jeremiah, was also most convenient. Temple robbery was a stock image of temple degredation in the popular imagination, combining criminal activity with impiety.

The first use of the theme in Mark is Jesus’ application of Jeremiah’s charge to those who brought and sold in the temple (that is, animals for offerings and money at foreign rates of exchange). This subtheme occurs at the arrest where Jesus chides the arresters coming after him as though he, not the money changers, were the temple robber (Mark 14:48). This develops the theme somewhat, playing on the symbolic significance of the temple act and putting the countercharge in his opponent’s mouth. At the trial the question of Jesus’ authority is the more important theme, but the temple act has not been forgotten. Jesus’ authority is related to the kingdom, the substitute for the temple,  thus builds (sic) upon the temple act as symbolically having taken charge. The hearsay about destroying the temple pushes the symbolism of the act in the direction of an exorcism (casting out as destroying). And underlying the charge of blasphemy is desecration, also related allusively to the temple act. When Jesus is crucified then, he is positioned between two robbers, that is, as one who desecrated the temple (Mark 15:27). Thus the subtheme is carried through to the end. It is a fictional theme derived from the scriptural citations.

The temple act cannot be historical. If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence. The anti-temple theme is clearly Markan and the reasons for it can be clearly explained. The lack of any evidence for an anti-temple attitude in the Jesus and Christ traditions prior to Mark fits with the incredible lack of incidence in the story itself. Nothing happens. Even the chief priests overhear his “instruction” and do nothing. The conclusion must be that the temple act is a Markan fabrication. (pp. 291-292, my emphasis. I have also broken up the first paragraph into three parts for easier web-reading.)

(Mack’s statement, “If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence”, addresses a point too rarely absent from “historicist” discussions about Jesus. Remove the scriptural embellishments and other plot devices and there is no ‘person’ left for history to see. This is why it is fallacious to claim that, since mythical associations do not discredit the historicity of ancient characters like Alexander or the Caesars, so therefore they should not discredit the historicity of Jesus. This argument misses the point: remove the mythical associations from Alexander and the Caesars and there is still plenty of ‘historical person’ left over to see. This is not the case with Jesus. But I am addressing here the correct logic of Mack’s argument. Mack himself accepts that there was an historical Jesus. One wonders, however, how Fredriksen or other “mainstream scholars” might have reacted if it had been a “mythicist” who expressed the above argument.)

The Origin of the story: Historical Tradition or Textual Tradition?

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