Grounds to question the crucifixion as bedrock fact, 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Following on from Reasons to Question the Historicity of the Crucifixion . . . .

By examining the supposedly earliest evidence first, and the later evidence later, (sounds silly to even have to spell out such a basic methodology) one can see how a theological idea and image eventually became historicized.

Continuing  . . .  1. The earliest references to the crucifixion present it not as an historical event but as a theological doctrine, a point of faith, a matter of religious belief.

Last post looked at Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. Now for 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:13, 17-18, 22-25

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? . . . . For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . . For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

I do not see how it is possible to read a criminal or religious trial and execution into the above references to the crucifixion of Christ, unless by overfamiliarity and divine fiat.

These are among the earliest references to the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the most widely accepted dating (that is, that the Pauline letters were composed from the mid first -century c.e.).

The notion of the crucifixion of Christ at this point is that it is a spiritual power and form of divine wisdom.

It is not as if we have any evidence that there was a real criminal trial and execution over which early disciples of Jesus were confused and embarrassed, and that they later rationalized as some form of “spiritual power” or “wisdom”. Note, it is not the resurrection that infuses spiritual power or wisdom, but the crucifixion. One could understand confused and embarrassed followers pointing to earlier miracles or the subsequent resurrection on which to rationalize and vindicate their faith. But that is not what we find here at all.

The second half of the above is even less consistent with the concept of an historical event.

The reason the Jews rejected the message of the crucifixion was because it was not a public miracle. “The Jews require a sign” — for this reason the crucifixion was “a stumblingblock”. To judge by Paul’s statements here, it is as if there never were any conflict between Jesus and “the Jews” over blasphemous claims or violations of legal codes or envy over Jesus’ abilities to pull in large crowds. As far as Paul is aware, the reason the Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah is because the sign of his Messiahship was not a public miracle.

Had there been an historical crucifixion somewhat along the broad outline we read in the decades later canonical gospels, surely the reason the Jews rejected Jesus was because they believed he was a blasphemer or demon-possessed deceiver and spoke against the Temple and taught people to violate of the Mosaic law.

The reason given here for the Greeks rejecting the Messiahship of Jesus is just as problematic if we insist on a gospel like narrative of a crucifixion.

Paul’s reason for the Greeks rejecting Jesus was because they could not see any philosophical wisdom in a crucifixion. Note that there is no hint in Paul’s mind that a crucifixion might actually indicate criminality of the victim.

Paul is saying that Jews and Greeks do not accept the crucifixion because it was either not a public miracle or it was not a philosophical tenet. That speaks volumes for what the message of the crucifixion was and was not. It was a theological concept claiming to be a miraculous power and secret wisdom for those who were called by God to understand. It was not an historical event involving a trial over violation of civil or religious laws.

If we insist on arguing that Paul’s view was a rationalization and attempt to deny a real historical event, then we are in danger of arguing from mere assumption and in defiance of the earliest evidence.

(I understand that sometimes later evidence can point to earlier events, but it must also be consistent with the earlier evidence. Mere assumption and hypotheses pulled out of imaginative airs cannot replace material evidence.)

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Paul’s message about the crucifixion was “the testimony of God”. It was not the testimony of men or other apostles or eyewitnesses or official reports or the grapevine. It was not the testimony of a Jesus in a vision. It was “the testimony of God”.

This testimony of God was “Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Jesus Christ, and him crucified, was not from eyewitness or second or third hand historical testimony. It was a message from God.

1 Corinthians 2:7-8

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Here Paul returns to the message or testimony of God, and the wisdom of God which he earlier explained was “Christ crucified”.

Had the princes of this world known the wisdom of God they would not have crucified Christ. Princes of the world. Not the governor Pilate of the Jews. Not King Herod or the Jewish Sanhedrin of the Jews. Pauline letters elsewhere speak of struggling against higher powers in spiritual warfare. Daniel (and apocalyptic Second Temple authors) understood Princes of this world to be angelic powers.

Of course one can interpret this to mean that the angelic powers directed Pilate to crucify Jesus. But that is to read the earlier evidence through the theology and narrative of the later evidence.

Let’s see first of all how much understanding we can gain of Paul’s message by examining it one archaeological layer at a time and slowly working our way up.

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Neil Godfrey

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