Category Archives: New Testament


2014-07-27

“Arise to my talit” — Rethinking Aramaisms in Mark

by Tim Widowfield

Jewish man, wearing a prayer shawl (talit), wrapping his arm in phylactery.

The presence of Aramaisms as a historical criterion

If you’ve been reading Vridar over the past few years, you’ll recall that we’ve tangled with the late Maurice Casey and his student, Stephanie Fisher, regarding the historicity of Jesus in general, and the Aramaic background of the New Testament in particular. In a nutshell, Casey (and others) believed that the language Jesus and his followers spoke — Aramaic — holds the key to understanding the gospel of Mark and the double-tradition material usually referred to as “Q.” Specifically, he argued that his “original” reconstructed Aramaic accounts provide a window into the authentic words and deeds of the historical Jesus.

“Why hast thou forsaken me?”

For a long time now I’ve been mulling over the counter-thesis that at least some of the Aramaic words extant in Mark’s gospel don’t go back to the historical Jesus, but rather indicate a patch that hides information the evangelist was trying to suppress. For example, Mark says that the Judean witnesses misheard the crucified Jesus’ cry of dereliction. They thought he was calling out for Elias (Elijah), but Mark explains that he was instead shouting:

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Is that what the historical Jesus really said? It seems just as likely that Mark was trying to contradict a tradition that Jesus shouted for help from Elijah while on the cross. And that help never came.

Just as he explained how we “know” Jesus arose bodily from the dead by inventing Joseph of Arimathea and a (suspiciously convenient) nearby, unused rock-hewn tomb that was later found empty, Mark may have rationalized Jesus’ plaintive “Elias! Elias!” with a scriptural reference. He would thereby have deflected an embarrassing rumor with a quote from the Psalms that the reader could construe as a fulfilled prophecy.

“Be opened!”

Or take, for example, the idea that Jesus might have used magic words to effect his miraculous healings. Consider this verse from the prophet Micah:

read more »


How the New Testament Works

by Neil Godfrey

David Trobisch reminds us in The First Edition of the New Testament that the books of the New Testament canon have been arranged in way that conveys its own message to readers. So editors responsible for the arrangement of the books send a message to readers. This is part of what Trobisch explains is “the editorial concept”.

So we open the New Testament and the first book we see is the Gospel of Matthew. Now the author’s name is nowhere found in the book itself. Someone has added the title and author heading to it. So who is this Matthew? We read the book and see Matthew is one of the Twelve Disciples. So the reader is led to understand that this first book is written by one of the Twelve who were with Jesus.

Next comes the Gospel of Mark, and the reader is left curious as to Mark’s identity. But the editor has collated other books and perhaps even added the odd “incidental” line that leads the reader to learn who he is, too. I’ll return to this later.

Then we read The Gospel of Luke. This work begins with a claim that leads readers to understand many others had attempted to write gospels before this one. The reader has already turned the pages of two of these. Now this Gospel is tied by the preambles to the Book of Acts that soon follows. Now Acts concludes suddenly with an imprisoned Paul preaching in Rome and waiting trial. The reader was expecting to read about the death of Paul. Moreover, some passages in Acts are written in the first person. It is natural, then, for the reader to conclude that Acts was written prior to the death of Paul.

And if Acts was written in the life-time of Paul, then so must have been the Gospel of Luke that precedes Acts. Yet the reader has seen that Luke follows earlier gospels still, such as Matthew and Mark. It is natural, then, for the reader to view these first three gospels as all being composed very early and during the life-time of Paul and other apostles.

read more »


2014-07-25

Jewish Foundations: The Divine Name & Heavenly Beings Become Human

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Jewish Foundations of Christianity — Significance of God’s Name  . . . . .

We have seen how pre-Christian ideas within something we might loosely call “Judaism” could conceive of a clear connection between a “Son of God” (who is a Saviour figure) and an “image of God” and how both of these entities could receive the exalted name of God himself.

The Name Above All Names

This brings us to the famous hymn cited by Paul in Philippians 2 and its declaration that the Son of God was, at his exaltation, honoured with the name exalted above all names. What is this name? Here is one train of thought:

The second prominent angelomorphic tradition in this pericope is the teaching of the Divine Name and its investiture: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the Name [το ονομα] which is above every name“. The referent of “the Name” is not the name ‘Jesus”, but the Divine Name. This is clear from his inclusion of κυριος [=Lord], which the LXX [=Septuagint or Greek Old Testament] uses to translate the Tetragrammaton [=YHWH], in the confession of 2.11: κύριος Ἰησοῦς χριστός [= Lord Jesus Christ]. The significance of this ascription cannot be overestimated. It is indisputable evidence that lays bare the ancient roots of this Christology in angelomorphic traditions that grew from the Divine Name Angel of Exod 23.20-21. The unparalleled status and enthronement of the one who possesses the Divine Name is also emphasized in Eph 1.12-23:

[. . .] the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints [. . .] which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

That is from Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents & Early Evidence (p. 339 – my own bolding as always).

Here’s another take, this time from Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christologies in Early Christianity (pp. 143-144)

On Fitzmyer’s opposing view that pre-Christian copies of the LXX did not use κύριος for יהוה  Hannah says “Fitzmyer is too cautious. he does not take into account the evidence of Philo, whose text of the LXX clearly renders יהוה with κύριος. Nor can Fitzmyer account for the overwhelming substitution of κύριος  for the tetragrammaton in Christian MSS if it were not the traditional rendering. 

The earliest text which implies Jesus possessed the divine Name is Phil. 2.6-11. After recalling Jesus’ death on the cross followed by his exaltation, the hymn continues, God καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ . . . [=has given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . ]  Many commentators agree that “the name above every name” can only be κύριος, which in the LXX renders יהוה, and which is explicitly attributed to Jesus in vs. 11. The phrase ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ must then be translated “at the name of Jesus”, i.e., the name which belongs to Jesus, rather than “at the name Jesus”. In other words, the Lordship of God, and His Name which guarantees that Lordship, now belong to Christ.

Significantly, the hymn culminates in transferring to Christ an OT text (Isa. 45.21-23) which declares the universal worship of the one God, but does it in a way which does not set up Christ as a rival to that one God (vs. 11).

In many ways this text parallels 1 Cor. 8.6, where Paul seemingly modifies the Shema to include a confession of Christ as κύριος. The deutero-Pauline Eph. 1.20-21 and the author of Hebrews 1.4) provide later but important parallels to Phil. 2.6-11. The three texts taken together imply a conjunction between Christ’s exaltation and his possession of a new name. 

This bestowal of the divine Name upon Christ at his exaltation and in consequence of his obedience, it must be admitted, differs significantly from the Exodus angel who possesses God’s Name so that he can take God’s place in leading the Israelites (Ex. 23.20-21, 32.31-33.6), and from Michael’s being given knowledge of the Name as the secret oath by which the world was created (1En. 69. 13-25), and even from Yahoel’s (ApAb.) possession of the Name as the key to his status as the principal angel. However, there is a significant similarity with Metatron’s reception of the Name on the occasion of his exaltation to heaven and his elevation over the heavenly hosts in 3 Enoch 4-12 (= §§5-15). Two other NT passages, Rev. 19.11-16 and John 17.11-12, offer parallels to the Exodus angel’s, Michael’s and Yahoel’s possession of the Name. 

(I’m not quite sure I understand why Hannah says ”it must be admitted” that the bestowal of the divine Name upon Jesus “differs significantly” from the other instances.)

Moshe Idel, in Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism, notes the possibility that the name Jesus itself is related to its “Hebrew theophoric form Yehoshu’a” (יהושוע) which contains (significantly according to many readers in ancient times) the letters of the divine Name — y-h-w. Page 24:

read more »


2014-07-17

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 12: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (conclusion)

by Roger Parvus
In this series I have been examining passages in the Pauline letters from a particular angle. Marcion claimed that the man who wrote the originals was someone who did not believe the god of the Old Testament to be the supreme God. And the letters, said Marcion, had been interpolated by someone who aimed to Judaize them. These claims combined with certain commonalities between Paul and the infamous Simon of Samaria—a man whose teaching allegedly did place the god who made the world far below the highest God—are what led me to consider whether the author of the original letters could have been Simon. Was the name Paul, i.e., the little one, a name that Simon who claimed to be “somebody great” (Acts 8:9) either at some point adopted himself or had given to him by followers or enemies? And could the many inconsistences in the Paulines have been caused by an early interpolator whose insertions were meant to make the original letters compatible with his proto-orthodox beliefs and more moderate toward Judaism?   

It is with these possibilities in mind that I have been re-reading the letters. I want to separate the apparent zigs from the zags, and then look to see if the zigs are plausible as expressions of Simon’s teaching and the zags as proto-orthodox insertions.

quote_begin In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body. quote_end

 

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with th...

English: folio 150 recto of the codex, with the beginning of the 1. Epistle to the Corrinthians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This approach will be continued in this post on chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, a passage in which—if my Simonian scenario is correct—I would expect to find proto-orthodox intervention.

For the main subject of the chapter—the resurrection of the dead—is one about which proto-orthodox belief differed from that of Simon. The Father of Gnosticism is said to have taught that man’s spirit is the only part of him that is from the highest God and, as such, is the only part that can survive the coming destruction of this world. Man’s body is the inferior work of the inferior angels who made the visible world and is radically unfit for the highest world.

In contrast, the proto-orthodox held that this world including the human body is fundamentally good, having been made by the one true God, the God spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. The body, as God’s work, possesses a definite dignity, a dignity that can be marred by sin but can also be restored by him.

Thus proto-orthodox resurrection of the dead is resurrection of the whole man, including the body. For the proto-orthodox, denial of the resurrection of the body is the same thing as denial of the resurrection of the dead. And such denial is incompatible with really being a Christian.

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians … who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians… (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80)

In this post I will consider whether 1 Corinthians 15 in its current state makes sense as an early (c. 130) proto-orthodox sanitization of a passage by Simon that denied the resurrection of the body.

.

Initial observations 

quote_begin Is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion? quote_end

I expect that many readers of Vridar are already familiar with Robert M. Price’s article in which he argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is not a window… into the earliest days of Christian belief,” but rather a “piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffery J. Lowder, p. 69 ) The article can be read online at Prices’s website: www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com.

Contradicts Galatians
Among the reasons Price gives for rejecting the authenticity of the pericope is its contradiction of Galatians 1:1, 11-12. In the Corinthians passage the Apostle has apparently been taught his gospel by human predecessors, but in Galatians he says he did not receive it from man. Thus it would seem, as Price points out, that

If the historical Paul is speaking in either passage, he is not speaking in both. (p. 74)

Suspicious Christophanies
Price also has numerous issues with the pericope’s list of Christophanies. And he proposes that in reality verses 3 and 9-11 are

part of an apologia for Paul made by a spirit kindred to the writer of the Pastorals. The writer wished to vindicate Paul’s controversial heresy-tinged apostolate in the eyes of his fellow “early catholics” by doing what Luke did at about the same time: assimilating Paul to the Twelve and James. (p. 90)

I basically agree with Price on the above points and would add a few other observations.

Overlooked crucifixion
For one thing, the gospel summary in the passage simply says

that Christ died (15:3)

Christ crucified

Christ crucified (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

without specifying that the death was by crucifixion.

But earlier in the same letter great emphasis is placed on the manner of the death. The Apostle proclaimed

Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22)

and insisted that when he was among the Corinthians he

resolved to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Given the circumstances, is it plausible that the real Paul would have failed to have his gospel summary make explicit mention that the death was by crucifixion?

quote_begin

It is unrealistic to think that the afterlife only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. . . .

The passage would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body like the one the risen Christ has.

quote_end

Omitted teaching
And at face value the passage would have us believe that the Apostle had previously neglected to tell the Corinthians what their afterlife existence would be like.

The passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection and that his hearers had not understood it; nor does it reproach them for forgetfulness.

It is important to realize this: the passage does not say that the Apostle had preached the resurrection of the dead and that his hearers had not understood it. Nor does it reproach them with forgetfulness of what he had said about that doctrine.

What it says is that the Apostle had preached the gospel to them—a gospel that included the resurrection of Christ—but it makes no claim that he ever addressed the nature of their own afterlife in any of his instructions. This passage together with the defense of resurrection that follows it would have us believe that he had never previously told the Corinthians that they will one day have a body that is like the one the risen Christ has. It wants us to believe he had wrongly assumed all of them would deduce that on their own, and so he had never expressly said a word about it.

To me this supposed omission on the Apostle’s part is suspicious. The nature of the afterlife is just too central and important a matter to have been completely left out by him. It is unrealistic to think that it only came up much later in the Apostle’s dealings with his churches. It is the kind of thing that would have come up from the beginning in all kinds of discussions about Christian hopes and expectations.

read more »


2014-07-13

Mark, Canonizer of Paul

by Neil Godfrey

dykstra1Until recently I have had little interest in arguments that our apparently earliest written gospel, the Gospel of Mark, was composed as an attempt to teach the ideas of Paul as found in his letters. After reading Mark, Canonizer of Paul by Tom Dykstra I am now more sympathetic to the possibility that the author of this gospel really was writing as a follower of Paul.

Dykstra introduces his argument by pointing out how curiously uninterested the author of the Gospel of Mark is in the contents of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus is said to teach with authority and crowds are said to be impressed with his teachings but exactly what he taught in the synagogues or to those who crowded around to hear him in a house is left unsaid. Jesus does teach a lot of parables warning hearers of the consequences of not believing the gospel but the content of that gospel, the detail of what they must believe, is never stated. About the only teaching Mark’s Jesus is said to have delivered is little more than “Keep the commandments”.

Then there is the curious ending: why does Mark virtually leave the resurrection details out of the story altogether?

Dykstra sums up his argument:

The explanation I offer in this book can be summarized as follows. Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his “Judaizing” opponents. He undertook this defense because epistles written in the Apostle’s name were no longer deemed adequate, possibly because Paul himself was no longer around to personally defend his authority. Mark didn’t report any new teachings of Jesus because none were available to him: his main sources were the Old Testament, the Homeric epics, and Paul’s epistles, not the disciples or oral tradition. And so he wrote a Gospel that implicitly validated the authority of Paul and his epistles. . . .  My goal in this book is mainly to present the evidence for a literary relationship between Mark and Paul’s epistles. (p. 23, my bolding)

This situation makes sense, Dykstra suggests, if Paul had died and his teachings were in danger of being eclipsed by his opponents.

In chapter two and relying primarily upon Michael Goulder’s argument in St. Paul vs. St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions Dykstra presents a scenario of a sharp divide between two different types of gospels. Goulder was reviving (and responding to criticisms of) an 1831 interpretation by Ferdinand Baur.

Peter’s mission believed that the heavenly kingdom had already arrived and believers were already enjoying the resurrected life, while Paul stressed that the resurrection was yet to come and believers’ present life was more like the crucifixion. . . . Peter’s mission stressed tongues and visions and gifts of the spirit, while Paul’s stressed love and charity; Peter’s mission stressed the need to give away all of one’s possessions since the end had already come, while Paul’s mission advised people to keep working and earning a living. As will be seen, some of these differences are reflected in the text of Mark’ Gospel. (p. 35)

If the evangelist wanted to create a narrative to bolster the embattled teachings and authority of Paul he would need to project a dispute of his own and Paul’s day back into that narrative. The narrative would also need to show that apostles who came prior to Paul, even those claiming to be his brothers and those who were reputed as “pillars” in the church, failed to understand Jesus.

read more »


2014-06-09

Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple: Rationalizing a Miracle

by Tim Widowfield
Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul G...

Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul Getty Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disorderly Conduct

While researching the similarities and differences between Mark’s and John’s account of the Cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, I came across some fascinating observations by David Friedrich Strauss in The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. As you no doubt already know, the cleansing of, or what many Historical Jesus (HJ) scholars today often call a disturbance at, the Temple is an event recounted in all four gospels, which imagines a lone Jesus disrupting all business occurring in the outer courtyard.

HJ scholars who claim Jesus was some sort of apocalyptic prophet prefer to believe the event really happened, because it fits in with the eschatological message of their reconstructed Jesus. On the other hand, taking the stories at face value raises many issues. Bart Ehrman, in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, writes:

Most scholars recognize that some aspects of our accounts appear exaggerated, including Mark’s claim that Jesus completely shut down the operation of the Temple (if no one could carry any vessels, it would have been impossible to sacrifice and butcher the animals—which was after all what the Temple was for). As we have seen, the Temple complex was immense, and there would have been armed guards present to prevent any major disturbances. Moreover, if Jesus had actually created an enormous stir in the Temple, it’s nearly impossible to explain why he wasn’t arrested on the spot and taken out of the way before he could stir up the crowds. For these reasons, it looks as if Mark’s account represents an exaggeration of Jesus’ actions. But exaggerations aside, it is almost certain that Jesus did something that caused a disturbance in the Temple — for example, overturned some tables and made at least a bit of a ruckus. (Ehrman, p. 212, emphasis mine)

So for Ehrman, the Temple “disturbance” almost certainly happened, but not the way the gospels tell it. Instead, he would argue, the gospels contain a nugget of truth inside an otherwise unbelievable story.

Meanwhile, other NT scholars don’t buy into the historicity of the event. For example, in A Myth of Innocence Burton Mack called the story a “Markan fabrication.” (See p. 292.) For more on the historical aspects of the cleansing, read Neil’s excellent post: “Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical.”

Identifying the form

Before we go any further, let’s recall an often forgotten rule in biblical studies: To understand what a story means, you must first determine what it is. And so I come back to Strauss’s analysis of the alleged Temple event. With respect to Origen’s take on the Temple tantrum, he wrote:

read more »


2014-05-28

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 11: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy (continued)

by Roger Parvus

.

The previous post in this series was focused on chapters 1 – 4 of 1 Corinthians. I proposed that the theme of the disruptive wisdom at Corinth was eschatological and that it featured an earthly kingdom of God. And I suggested that the points of contact between the wisdom discussion in Corinthians and the earthly kingdom described in the book of Revelation may indicate that the party of Cephas at Corinth had some connection with the Revelation community. I also showed how Paul’s resistance to a reign-on-earth doctrine is compatible with my hypotheses that he was Simon of Samaria and his gospel was the Vision of Isaiah.

This post will look at chapters 5 through 7. These abruptly introduce a new subject and present a picture of the Corinthian church that is very hard to accept at face value. Supposedly it was a church composed of Christians whose bizarre ethics somehow combined extreme sexual libertinism (chapters 5 and 6) with strict sexual asceticism (chapter 7)! Not only are some Corinthian Christians going to prostitutes, the community as a whole is apparently boasting about the incest of one their own who has his father’s wife. Yet at the same time some of them are considering a life of virginity. The Apostle has to tell them that it is no sin to get married. And he has to advise those already married not to abstain from sexual intercourse with their spouses.

quote_begin This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition . . . . quote_end

This scenario of such widely divergent sexual attitudes peacefully co-existing in the church founded by the Apostle makes me suspicious. My Simonian hypotheses offer an alternative explanation for the juxtaposition, one that reasonably squares with the Corinthian controversy as a whole. We are dealing with two authors, not one. The author of the original letter was Simon/Paul; the author of chapters 5 and 6 was the second-century proto-orthodox interpolator. These two chapters express the interpolator’s negative assessment of the Simonian church at Corinth. They interrupt, as I will show later in the post, the original situational continuity that existed between chapters 4 and 7 (whether or not this latter chapter was part of the original letter or just a follow-up response to questions provoked by it).

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians ended with the Apostle offering himself as an example to be imitated (1 Cor. 4:16). He promised to send Timothy to the Corinthians “to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17). But the proto-orthodox disapproved of many of Simon/Paul’s “ways,” and chapters 5 and 6 were inserted to register that disapproval. Whereas he wrote to his flock “not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14), that was not the case with the interpolator. He is blunt: “I say this to shame you” (1 Cor. 6:5).

.

The man who reportedly had the father’s wife

Allegory of Divine Wisdom

Allegory of Divine Wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter 5 begins by saying that it is “widely reported” that among the Corinthian brethren there is sexual immorality “of a kind unheard of even among Gentiles,” namely “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). The command is given to expel the man from the community and to deliver him to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh,” (1 Cor. 5:5). Yet the Corinthian church has apparently not been concerned about the situation. They were even proud of it: “You are puffed up” (1 Cor. 5:2). Their attitude is all the more puzzling in that the Apostle says he told them in a previous letter not to associate with whoremongers, avaricious people, extortioners, idolaters, revilers, or drunks. He offers a belated clarification that he meant brothers who are such, not non-Christians.

I find it hard to accept that there could have been that kind of disconnect between the ethical understanding of the founder of the Corinthian church and his flock. And the reference to an earlier letter could just be a fabricated excuse for the implausible disconnect. Did the Corinthian church really think that it was ok to associate with Christian idolaters and whoremongers but not with pagan ones? I doubt it. The situation described in chapter 5 is not only impractical (as the passage itself concedes: “You would have to go out of the world” – 1 Cor. 5:10), it is also unrealistic. Something else is going on here.

The nature of the “widely reported” incest is that “a man has the father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). That description, it strikes me, is how a proto-orthodox Christian could view Simon’s outrageous claim that his companion Helen was divine Wisdom. To the proto-orthodox, Wisdom was personified as some kind of female consort of God who assisted him with the work of creation:

Does not wisdom cry out? And understanding lift up her voice? She stands at the top of the high places… I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was… When he established the heavens, I was there… When he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep… then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always…. And now, my sons, listen to me. Blessed are they who keep my ways… For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 8)

So when Simon came along and divulged to certain initiates of his that the woman he was taking around with him was divine Wisdom, was he not a man who reportedly had the Father’s woman?

read more »


2014-04-23

Defending the Criterion of Dissimilarity

by Tim Widowfield
Ernst Käsemann

Ernst Käsemann

The limits of historical criteria

Longtime Vridar readers will recall that both Neil and I view the use of criteriology as employed by historical Jesus researchers with a great deal of skepticism. They consistently ask too much of the criteria. We might be able to say, for example, that applying a given criterion can determine the antiquity of a logion (e.g., a traditional saying that may predate both Paul and Mark) but it cannot prove authenticity (i.e., that Jesus said it).

However, I now find myself in the odd position of defending at least one criterion against a detractor. In How God Became Jesus, a book intended to refute Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, Michael Bird writes (in a chapter called “Did Jesus Think He Was God?”):

I’ve used [historical criteria] myself at times, but like others I’ve become increasingly aware of their limitations and become convinced that they do not offer a path to an objective history of Jesus. For a start, trying to sort out the authentic traditions from the inauthentic traditions is not really that easy, for the simple fact that the history of Jesus has been thoroughly welded together with the early church’s proclamation of Jesus at every point. (p. 33)

Bird’s definition of the CoD

I would, of course, shy away from the term “the early church,” especially in the singular, because it implies unity within ancient Christianity. But other than that, Bird and I mostly agree. If any history at all lies within the gospels, it will necessarily be entangled with the theological concerns of the evangelists and the proclamation of Christ by Jesus’ early followers. No historical criterion can reliably separate them.

Bird offers up the criterion of dissimilarity (CoD) as a failed example.

For [a] case in point, let’s consider Ehrman’s use of the “criterion of dissimilarity,” which on his account dictates that a given unit in the Gospels is historically authentic if “it is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have wanted to say about him.” [Ehrman, 96-97] This criterion is well-known and has received a devastating barrage of criticism to the point that I am, to be frank, at a loss as to why Ehrman continues to use it. It jumped the shark about the same time that the TV show Dawson’s Creek did. (Bird, Evans, et al., p. 33, emphasis mine)

If you’re wondering about that Dawson’s Creek reference, I regret to say that the authors continually veer off into stilted pop culture references. Each time they drag one out, I can’t help but picture an awkward youth pastor in Dockers and a sweater vest trying to sound “hip” for the kids. It’s a constant reminder that we are not their intended audience. Here’s another rib-tickler from Bird:

The background to this saying and the explanation for why Jesus was thought to have committed blasphemy is something like a Jewish version of the TV show Game of Thrones. (p. 43)

read more »


2014-04-20

How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 2)

by Tim Widowfield

Part 2: A Markan Sandwich in John’s Gospel

The Denial of St Peter

The Denial of St Peter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scholars have long noted that both the gospel of John and the gospel of Mark interrupt the story of Peter’s denial with Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark) or interrogation before Annas (John). Both authors begin with Peter in the courtyard of the high priest late at night, pause the story to describe Jesus’ initial questioning before the Jewish authority, then resume the denial narrative. In other words, the author of John’s gospel has apparently used the same literary device found in Mark.

For New Testament scholars who think that John knew the Synoptics, especially Mark, this situation poses no problems. However, scholars who believe John did not know Mark must explain this evidence, which tends to indicate literary dependence. For example, they might argue that John and Mark:

  1. independently chose to use the intercalation (sandwich) technique to tell the two stories,
  2. used a pre-gospel Passion narrative in which this literary device existed,
  3. or knew the same oral tradition, which happened to contain the sandwich.

Comparing sandwiches

For the purposes of discussion, it’s helpful to see the sandwiches side by side.

read more »


2014-04-19

Jesus’ Crucifixion From the Olivet Prophecy to Gethsemane & the Fall of Jerusalem

by Neil Godfrey

This follows on from my previous post.Three hours of darkness 2There is nothing new about noticing that the prophecy of the “last days” that Jesus delivered to his inner disciples in Mark 13 contains allusions to events in the ensuing narrative Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I addressed one of these points in the previous post. There are others.

Among them . . . .

Keep in mind that these are answers to the question: Tell us, when shall these things [there shall not be left one stone of the temple upon another] be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled (Mark 13:4)

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up [παραδώσουσιν] to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten. . . . (13:9)

And he that betrayed [παραδιδοὺς] him . . . And all the council sought to put him to death. . . and the servants did strike him . . . and [the soldiers] smote him . . . (14:44, 55, 65; 15:19)

Now the brother shall betray [παραδώσει] the brother to death . . . and shall cause them to be put to death. (13:12)

And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray [παραδώσει] me. (14:18)

And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. (13:16)

And they all forsook him, and fled. And there followed him a certain young man . . . and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked (14:50, 52)

the sun shall be darkened (13:24)

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (13:33)

Now learn a parable of the fig tree (13:28)

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots (11:20)

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (13:32)

Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation (14:38)

Watch ye therefore: for you know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all. Watch. (13:35-37)

And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? . . . And when he returned, he found them asleep again. . . And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (14:37-41)

read more »


2014-04-18

Jesus’ Crucifixion As Symbol of Destruction of Temple and Judgment on the Jews

by Neil Godfrey
From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

This post advances another reason to think that the author of the Gospel of Mark depicted the final days of Jesus as a metaphor for the fall of Jerusalem. If so, it follows that the resurrection of Jesus symbolized the emergence of a new “body of Christ” and “Temple of God” in the “ekklesia” or assemblies of Christians (what we think of as the “church”). I owe a special debt to Clark W. Owens whose book on a literary-critical analysis of the gospels, Son of Yahweh, I posted about recently. I also owe much to a few insights advanced by Karel Hanhart in The Open Tomb, on which I have also posted a little.

To begin, let’s recapitulate some of the essentials from those earlier posts.

I am persuaded that the Gospel of Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ tomb was based on a reading of the Greek version of Isaiah 22:16 that describes the destruction of the temple. In Isaiah 22:16 the temple is likened to a tomb carved out of a rock:

What hast thou here? and whom has thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock.

Compare Mark 15:46 speaking of the tomb Joseph of Arimathea used for the body of Jesus:

. . . and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock . . . .

Recall at this point that we know ancient authors of the era in which the gospels were composed loved to imitate, draw upon, rearrange, allude to, transform, other well-known literature. We have numerous examples of this being done in the Gospel of Mark. The author has regularly taken passages from the Book of Daniel, the Psalms, other prophets, 1 and 2 Kings, Genesis and Exodus, and woven them into a new story so that they take on new meanings. We see this at the beginning with the introduction of Jesus through the announcement of John the Baptist. That opening chapter is replete with allusions to Elijah, the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the forty year wandering in the wilderness. The Passion scene at the end is equally rich with allusions to Daniel and Psalms, such as the cry of desperation from the cross, the mocking of Jesus as he was dying, the dividing of his garments, the promise of a return on the clouds in glory. read more »


2014-03-31

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 10: A Different Perspective on the Corinthian Controversy

by Roger Parvus

.

When I finished the previous post of the series, I expected to go on to a discussion of the eschatology in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. But while working on that, I quickly realized that chapters 1 through 4 of the letter should be examined first. They provide some necessary background on the situation in the church at Corinth.

So this post will consider these earlier chapters from the perspective of my hypotheses that the Paul who wrote the Corinthian letters was Simon of Samaria, his gospel was based on the Vision of Isaiah, and his letters were subsequently interpolated (as late as 130 CE) by a proto-orthodox Christian.

I have already discussed 1 Cor. 2:6-9 in part 7 of the series. My interpretation of that passage will be incorporated here into a view of the Corinthian controversy as a whole.

.

 

Disruptive Wisdom in the Church at Corinth

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters in which the Apostle expresses concern about some kind of wisdom that, in his absence, was being put forward by certain Christians at Corinth and was giving rise to factions in the church there. The nature of the troublesome wisdom is unclear but, from a consideration of the entire Corinthian correspondence, it seems to me most likely that it was the product of people laying claim to the gift of prophecy. Its proponents likely believed that their wisdom, like the Apostle’s own (1 Cor. 2:6-9), was revealed by God.

ellisAs we saw above, in the Pauline letters, and especially in 1 Corinthians (2, 12-14), certain believers have gifts of inspired speech and discernment. They are called pneumatics and, broadly speaking, they exercise the role of prophets. Among other manifestations they are said to speak ‘wisdom of God’ (2,7,13) or to be ‘wise’ (3,18; 6,5; cf. 14,29 diakrinein) or to have a ‘word of wisdom’ (12,8) and to speak ‘in knowledge’ or to ‘have knowledge’ or ‘a word of knowledge’ (8,10; 12,8; 14,6). The terms wisdom and knowledge are used of pneumatic gifts in other parts of the Pauline literature and occasionally they appear in tandem, both in Paul and elsewhere. (E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity, p. 50)

The Apostle refers to the purveyors of the wisdom as fellow workers, but it becomes clear in the course of his presentation that he views at least some of them as competitors and has serious reservations about whether their teaching is in harmony with the gospel.

That gospel, as I proposed in parts 7 through 9, was likely derived from the Vision of Isaiah, and for the Apostle its truth was confirmed by the divine revelation that he himself had received. He has no comparable assurance for the suspect wisdom. Those pushing it apparently accepted, at least initially, the Apostle’s gospel beliefs, for without that minimal commonality it is hard to see how he could have allowed them to operate at all in his community. And he does say that they were building on the foundation— Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11, 1:23 and 2:2)—that he himself “as a wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10) had laid down in Corinth. He makes clear that use of that foundation is non-negotiable:  “No man can lay a foundation other than the one that is there” (1 Cor. 3:11).  To try to substitute another would in effect destroy the edifice, and “if any man destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that man; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). But building on the right foundation is not enough. What is built on it must be able to survive the coming conflagration and the Apostle seems to doubt that the materials being used by his competitors at Corinth will pass that test.

quote_begin Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God. quote_end

The Apostle’s repeated belittlement of mere “wisdom of word” and “wisdom of man” and “wisdom of the world” seems to be an indirect putdown of what his competitors are teaching. His wisdom is from God. He is not so sure about the source of theirs.

Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:17)

We have not received the spirit of the world but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by the wisdom of man, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)

We speak wisdom among the perfect, but wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this world understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’  (1Cor. 2:6-9)

The “wisdom of man,” as the Apostle uses the expression, is an inferior wisdom whose source is merely “the spirit of man that is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11). And the source of the “wisdom of this world” is “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:12), i.e., the ignorant angel who together with his spirit underlings are the “rulers of this world” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later, as the situation further deteriorates at Corinth and the Apostle comes to view the competing wisdom as “a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4), he supplies the name of the angel. He is “Satan” who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Thus we are apparently dealing with wisdoms inspired by different spirits and, according to Simon/Paul, only one of them—his—certainly comes from God.

.

The Eschatological Theme of the Wisdom of this World

read more »


2014-03-22

Why is Peter’s Brother, Andrew, Overlooked So Much in the Gospel Narrative?

by Neil Godfrey
The picture is a Greek Catholic icon depicting...

The picture is a Greek Catholic icon depicting apostle Andrew with his typical cross with him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why does the Gospel of Mark, generally agreed to be our earliest gospel, introduce Andrew as an equal to Simon Peter at the time Jesus calls them both but then drop him from the lime-light for most of the subsequent narrative?

I have always felt a bit sorry for Andrew. He seems to have been elbowed out by the other three, Peter, James and John, whenever Jesus wanted to share something special with his inner-circle. James and John could always be included as brothers, so why was Peter’s brother left out at special events like

  • the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37);
  • the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2);
  • the time Jesus wanted his closest companions with him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

Even when Jesus ordained his special band of Twelve he gave James and John a collective title, “Sons of Thunder”, but dropped Andrew to fourth place as if he was no longer kin to Peter.

And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:  And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite . . . (Mark 3:16-18)

So if Andrew was not to play any meaningful role, even as a hanger-on, with Jesus in the Gospel what was the point of him starring in the scene of the very first call?

Now as [Jesus] walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

Andrew’s response to Jesus’ call was no less admirable than was Peter’s.

There is one exception after this call where the Gospel does give Andrew a place beside Peter, James and John. For the first time since the opening scenes of the Gospel when Jesus called these four do we see them all performing together:

And as [Jesus] sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? (Mark 13:3-4)

I have finally come across an explanation that just might make sense of this and give some well-deserved consolation to Andrew. (Regular readers know I’m currently reading Karel Hanhart’s The Open Tomb and will suspect this is my source. They will be correct.)

read more »


2014-03-18

Blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark: Interpreted by the Gospel of John?

by Neil Godfrey

Here beginneth the lesson. The Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 46 to 52, in the original King James English:

And as [Jesus] went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.

And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.

And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.

And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.

And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

The author of this passage appears to have inserted a couple of clues to alert the observant readers that they will miss the point entirely if they interpret this story literally. It is not about a real blind man who was literally healed by Jesus. But I’ll save those clues for the end of this post. (As Paul would say, “Does God take care for oxen and blind beggars? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.”)

completely-differentThere are many commentaries on this passage and I have posted about Bartimaeus a few times now. But this time I’ve just read something completely different so here’s another one. (Well at least the bit about why Jesus stood still will be different, yes?)

Seeing

Mark uses different words for “sight” and “seeing”. Of the word used in “receive my sight” and “received his sight” is anablepo — “look up” — which Karel Hanhart says, the the Gospel of Mark (6:41; 7:34; 8:24; 16:4), “means to look at life with new eyes opened by faith”.

Many scholars agree that this usage is related to the two “blind receiving sight” stories (8:22-26; 10:46-52) which offset the central section of the Gospel and highlight the need of conversion if one is to understand Jesus’ “way to the cross” (cf. 8:34). (p. 124, The Open Tomb)

Hanhart, like a few other scholars who also identify Mark’s theme of the Way or Second Exodus in Isaiah, believes Mark is evoking passages such as Isaiah 42:16 read more »