I have frequently encountered claims that George Albert Wells has somehow had his Damascus Road experience and now believes that there was a historical Jesus somewhere at the start of it all. It is certainly a misrepresentation of what one reads in Wells’ own writings of 1999 when he was supposed to have published the details of his conversion in The Jesus Myth.
What Wells argues is that the Jesus of Paul and most early Christians was not historical. For Wells, Paul’s Jesus was a pre-existent being who descended to earth briefly in the flesh before returning to heaven. This was the Jesus of most of the earliest Christians. He was not historical.
There was one exception, and that was a Galilean community who produced Q.
In sum, the religious community responsible for Q cultivated the memory of a Jesus as their founder figure, an authoritative teacher who should be obeyed. (p.102)
Something like the Jesus of Q, rather than the Pauline Jesus, seems to have been what minority groups of Jewish Christians — branded as heretical by the Fathers — persisted in worshipping. (p.103)
Wells goes to pains to stress that the Jesus of Paul and most early Christians was not the same as the Jesus of Q. The name Jesus means Saviour and is a natural one to apply to any figure seen to be performing this role. Paul warned vociferously against others teaching another Jesus. So there was more than one floating around.
I have treated both the Galilean and the Cynic elements less skeptically in The Jesus Myth, allowing that they may contain a core of reminiscences of an itinerant Cynic-type Galilean preacher (who, however, is certainly not to be identified with the Jesus of the earliest Christian documents). (Earliest Christianity)
Wells also suggests that the author of the Gospel of Mark fused the two in an attempt to bring the minority Galilean community over to the majority Christian view of Jesus. Unlike the Q Jesus, Paul’s Jesus was a pre-existent being who descended to earth to die a salvific death. He was modelled on Jewish Wisdom figures and influenced by pagan mysteries.
the Jesus of the early epistles is not the Jesus of the gospels. The ministry of the latter may well be modelled on the career of an itinerant Galilean preacher of he early first century; the former derives largely from early Christian interpretation of Jewish Wisdom figures, with some influence from redeemer figures of pagan mystery religions. (p.112)
The Jesus of the religion of Christianity, the one who was crucified for our sins and resurrected, is the Jesus of Paul and, according to Wells, mythical. Mark attempted to fuse this Jesus with an itinerant Jesus of Galilee who left teachings in Q. Matthew and Luke incorporated those teachings in their gospels. But Christianity was widespread quite independently of any Q teacher, and the Q followers always remained a minority sect until their extinction.
The details of Jesus’ career in the gospels are so redolent of Elijah and Elisha and other OT figures, though, that I can’t see any room for a real person behind them at all. Otherwise, why not refer also to that person somewhere in there to which one is applying all those OT types? And if Q falls, then so does this small glimmer of a historical Jesus who seems to have accidentally intruded into a historical movement, a bit like Brian did in the Monty Python film of the Life of Brian.
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31 thoughts on “G. A. Wells on mythical and historical Jesus’s”
G.A. Wells new book, Cutting Jesus Down to Size
Whether Q gets dumped or not, the ‘sayings’ remain as part of the gospel story that we do have. Do they indicate that they could be *reminiscences* of an actual historical figure? Perhaps Wells does have an insight here, an insight that could well be beneficial to peruse for both the historicists and the mythicists.
Wells, is very clear on one thing – that his ‘itinerant Cynic-type’ preacher was not crucified. Do we not here have the idea that the mythological Jesus figure of the gospels and the spiritual figure of Paul’s cosmic Christ – have little to do with an actual historical figure – beyond perhaps some faint *reminiscences*.
From both the gospel storyline and from Paul there is the indication that there was an earlier movement of sorts. Paul did not know Jesus. The gospels have the storyline of John the Baptist and his followers. Thus, neither the gospel storyline of the Jesus figure, or Paul himself, are the historical starting point of what became Christianity.
If there is such a non-crucified historical figure, an inspirational figure that was relevant to the understanding of the early Christians – why the lack of interest in such a figure by Paul? Surely, the answer to that is very simple – no man has any salvation potential. Perhaps a historical figure was able to grasp the moment, to articulate the spiritual momentum of the hour – but it would be the message, the insights etc that would be of value not the life story of any one man. Particularly so if the road ahead was to be a spiritual path and not an earthly political one.
Thus, while the crucifixion story became the hallmark of Christianity – it simultaneously cut the cords, broke the link, to its historical core.
My query about Wells’ suggestion that there was a historical figure behind Q is that we don’t see anything particularly striking about the Q teachings that would warrant the teacher’s status as such an overpowering authority that a “Jesus cult” was likely to emerge from them. That may be a narrow view of the question, but how do I expand the view without going beyond the evidence? Is there anything really special about the teaching that sets it apart?
Thompson has the right approach — no historical person without independent verification, compare the Gospels with the evidence we do have and not the constructs we imagine with assumptions of historicity — but his discussion does not go into the depth required to make an overwhelming case. (I kept thinking he is merely setting up a few PhD topics for research for those interested.)
Anything really special about the teachings – the ‘sayings’? Probably not. In the case of an inspirational historical figure it would not just be a case of ‘words’ but of deeds, of actions. Not simply an exemplary life but a life that would take cognizance of the predicament of others. Perhaps the modern term, humanitarian, would convey the outreach and thus lead to a following of sorts.
Not going beyond the evidence – well, since the gospel storyline is recording a mythological storyline re Jesus – a mythological storyline that would not be seeking to impose a mythological layer upon a historical figure (something not acceptable to Jewish thought) then any historical indicators that may be within the gospel storyline are not going to be set down in such a manner that they would compromise the gospel Jesus storyline. The goal of the gospel storyline is to set down a pseudo-history for Jesus of Nazareth. The real history of Christian beginnings, the real history relating to a historical figure is incidental to the Jesus storyline. The Jesus story is complete with or without a human Jesus.
Sure, the Jesus storyboard can be colored by ‘sayings’ from a historical figure – after all a pseudo-history needs some plausible elements to be effective – but the Jesus figure is no carbon copy of a historical figure. As Wells as noted, *reminiscences* might be there in the early layers of the gospel story (no crucifixion) but even that, any historical reminiscences, any historical traditions, were of no interest, no concern for Paul. Apart from wanting a purely spiritual construct, Paul, rightly, saw no need for bloodlines or hierarchical structures. Any so called ‘pillars’ would be a hindrance; a backward looking instead of moving forward, beyond the purely earthly constraints.
Independent verification of an historical figure relevant to early Christian history? Obviously, one is not going to get that from the gospel storyline. For that one needs a history book…However, apart from the ‘sayings’, there are indications within the gospel storyline that call attention to a historical figure. What is in the gospels does not suggest an overlay of mythology upon a historical man – but an overlay of mythology upon early Christian history. Thus, in following the historical details that are in the gospel storyline a possible re-construction, without the mythology, of early Christian history is discernible.
As you know, I argue against the historicity on different grounds from either Wells or Doherty. Primarily I am not arguing “against historicity” so much as “impossible to say”, and this is because the basics of evaluation of evidence means we need independent attestation of some sort in order to confirm any historical basis to a narrative. Otherwise we are merely relying on the self-witness of the narrative.
To the extent I argue against historicity, I do so by adding to the above (which is a basis for agnosticism) the strengths of some of the arguments (and questions raised) by the likes of Doherty and Wells and Price.
The arguments of the likes of Sanders are all invalid because they are not determinants of historicity, but a type of historico-literary analysis that is claiming to arrive at the most plausible actions or sayings of a presumed historical Jesus.
Basically, here is what I think the gospel mythological storyline re early Christian history is doing with the historical figure of Philip, son of Herod the Great and Tetrarch of Trachonitis.
1. Indication in the gospel of John that the early disciples come from Bethsaida – just when Philip has renamed this town Bethsaida Julias in 29-30 ce.
2. The question in Mark and Matthew over the identity of Jesus near Caesarea Philippi – the capital of Philip’s territory.
3. The naming of the husband of Herodias as Philip in Mark and Matthew. – contrary to Josephus – who has been challenged by Nikos Kokkinos. (The Herodian Dynasty).
4. The gospel of Luke back dating the marriage of Herodias to Antipas to 29/30 ce – a time prior to the death of Philip (33 ce) when Herodias was not married to Antipas. This marriage probably only taking place after the divorce of Antipas from the daughter of Aretas – and the war of 36 ce. This back dating by Luke places Philip on the back burner of a history of Christian origins. (Luke making no mention of the name of Herodias’s previous husband).
5. The implicating of Herodias and her daughter in the death of John the Baptist.
This is an interesting storyline. What it does is cast the wife of the late Philip in a bad light. Historically, this storyline is questionable – as is the historicity of John the Baptist. (Josephus publishing Antiquities in 93/94 ce when the John the Baptist storyline would have already been written up in Mark and Matthew…) Taken as an allegorical story it could well make more sense. John the Baptist being figurative or symbolic of the earlier followers of Philip – Herodias wanting to keep this movement to its original focus (wisdom type spirituality). Herodias wanted the ‘head’ not of the figurative or symbolic John the Baptist but the ‘head’ or knowledge, or spirituality, of her late husband Philip.
6. Two Jesus movements historically. The Jesus set in a Jewish context in the gospel of John and the wholly Jewish Jesus of Matthew and Luke. The Gnostic, the spirituality type movement verse the prophetic and literal Jewish Jesus. The early followers of Philip – those who found his life to be inspirational. And the later pseudo-Jewish prophetic nativity storyline Jesus. While the Philip ‘followers’ might have been active in and around Caesarea Philippi, Bethsaida Julias and Syria and such areas – it was most likely that nothing much got off the ground re the Jews until after 70 ce – and the later Marcion heresy re his non-Jewish Jesus – a reaction most likely to the wholesale Jewish take over of the Jesus storyboard. The anti-Jewish element in the gospel of John later developing into the wholly Jewish prophetic Jesus of Matthew and Luke.
6. About this time it was that Philip, Herod’s ‘ brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius, (14) after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis and Gaulanitis, and of the nation of the Bataneans also, thirty-seven years. He had showed himself a person of moderation and quietness in the conduct of his life and government; he constantly lived in that country which was subject to him; he used to make his progress with a few chosen friends; his tribunal also, on which he sat in judgment, followed him in his progress; and when any one met him who wanted his assistance, he made no delay, but had his tribunal set down immediately, wheresoever he happened to be, and sat down upon it, and heard his complaint: he there ordered the guilty that were convicted to be punished, and absolved those that had been accused unjustly. He died at Julias; and when he was carried to that monument which he had already erected for himself beforehand, he was buried with great pomp. His principality Tiberius took, (for he left no sons behind him,) and added it to the province of Syria, but gave order that the tributes which arose from it should be collected, and laid up in his tetrachy.
“Caesarea Philippi: Banias, The Lost City of Pan”, John Francis Wilson
Philip died in the city of Julias in the fall of 33 AD, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius, and the thirty-seventh year of his own…….. Josephus says that his body was ‘carried to that monument which he had already erected for himself beforehand’ and that he was ‘buried with great pomp’. It is usually presumed that this monument was located in Bethsaida-Julias, but excavations there show the place to be very modest at best, and besides, Philip’s capital and home were at Banias. It seems more reasonable to understand Josephus to mean that a sad procession carried the remains of this successful ruler, respected by both the Romans and his own subjects, northward along the banks of the nascent Jordan’s cool waters to the springs of Banias. There, somewhere, he was laid to rest.
Are you saying the Philip was the inspiration of both views of Jesus, the spiritual and the physical?
Paul’s spiritual Christ figure is part and parcel of the dying and rising god mythology – and Philip was not crucified. As is pointed out very often by mythicists – there are no words or miracles of the Jesus figure re-counted by Paul in his spiritual construct. Paul looks to be concentrating on elaborating the dying and rising god mythology. It is the resurrection, the re-birth story that is his interest. Seeing that its all ideas – there is nothing new under the sun, so to speak, the new ideas always contain some residue of what has gone before. (Jesus was unrecognizable after the resurrection – only when he called Mary Magdalene by name did she know the ‘gardener’ was Jesus) So probably some essence, some element, of the ‘earthly’ Jesus story would be taken up by Paul: The last supper and its meal of bread and wine is a reference back to the theological/spiritual consequences, and remembrance, of the ‘earthly’ allegorical crucifixion storyline.
Obviously, the Jesus figure is no carbon copy of Philip. If there are ‘sayings’ from Philip in the mouth of the gospel Jesus – there would be no way that Paul would want to use such ‘sayings’ in his ministry to somehow back up what he, himself, wants to say. The gospel storyline is a mythological storyline re a dying and rising god figure. Philip’s ‘sayings’, if they are from him, are incidental and would be a distraction if Paul were to quote them – the emphasis is on the Jesus of Nazareth figure not on the historical figure that could have been inspirational to the early Christians. Paul’s interest is spiritual – why would he seek to confuse the issue by bringing in earthly issues? Faint glimmers perhaps – but detailed history would only be of academic interest and would not further a spiritual agenda. Paul seeks to move forward with as little historical baggage as he can get away with…
Interestingly, perhaps the gospel storyline has brought Philip into that story – not just in regard to the ‘sayings’ of Jesus. The gospel’s have a Philip as a disciple and apostle. The gospel of John records that this disciple comes from Bethsaida. It is this Philip that seems to be the only disciple to actually refer to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph”. And if the gospel of John is viewed as the earliest gospel, then ‘son of Joseph’ might well have a more interesting reference than simply to the later husband of Mary. Philip says they have found the one that Moses spoke about. Not a literal, physical son, but a spiritual son of Joseph – Joseph the son of Jacob. Joseph, ‘the prince among his brothers’, the ‘fruitful vine whose branches climb over a wall’, (perhaps after the scepter departs from Judah…..Gen.49)
In the synoptics Philip’s role is played down – mentioned along with the others apostles. However, in Acts, Philip, once again, plays a significant role. Philip is preaching in Samaria when the angel tells him to take the road going down from Jerusalem to Gaza – and meets the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian and then – “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,”. Philip does some more preaching and ends up in Caesarea.
Simply coincidence that the NT Philip comes from Bethsaida and ends up in Caesarea…
Its not a case of the gospels mythologizing a human man – or mythologizing Philip. (no crucifixion). The gospels have mythologized early Christian history. They have created an origin storyline that is merged with the dying and rising god mythology. And if Philip is part of early Christian history – then that history goes way back before the 15th year of Tiberius. No one year ministry and, abracadabra, Christianity was up and running….Philip ruled for 37 years – a long time for ideas to generate about his person and his place in history.
Its time to trace the sayings and parables back to their sources in the Torah in as detailed way as has been done with the narrative.
This is the frustrating thing about Thompson’s book, as Price remarked in his review of The Messiah Myth — the details are not there yet.
The gospels have mythologized early Christian history.
It occurred to me once: what if Judas in Mark stands for Paul, or for what Pauline Christianity has become in the author’s time?
It does seem to me that whoever first wrote the parables and sermons down, whether Mark and Q or Mark and Matthew and Luke was a very bookish person, not an illiterate preacher,a person with years of study of the Torah, with enough creativity to use tropes and details from 1 Samuel, Deutero Isiaiah, Psalms,to add to Mark’s fictional narrative powerful indicaters to the reader or hearer that he was part of the new Israel with ears to hear.
It strikes me as a little odd that such authors would write a supposedly partly historical or biographical work and not make explicit some note when they were using “traditions”. Most histories and biographies I have read give some indication of their sources. The only clear identification we have of sources is the OT.
I have been catching up with reading Doherty’s new book and I am more persuaded than I was with his first publication of the possibility — even probability — that Paul’s original message really was about a heavenly sacrifice without an earthly counterpart. But too much to detail here, of course.
So is wells a HJ theorist or MJ theorist? I was looking up various Christ myths and the folks at Early Christian Writings had him in the Christ Myth category, but with a note that he accepted some sort of other Jesus into the mix, and that seemed to be his statement in the book “The Jesus Myth” I only had the first few pages though so I googled “does G.A. Wells believe in a historical Jesus and this thread came up.
The impression I am getting here is he does hold that there is the mythic Jesus of Paul and a preacher named Jesus who inspired some gospel sayings. So is Wells still a mythicist? Can you be both HJ and MJ? And if so, wouldn’t most HJ scholars then be MJ scholars(and all historical Jesus theories Jesus myths!)since they accept that part of the Jesus of Christianity is a myth? The Paradigm could change by default!
“.. in particular the term is used for those who have a mythological interpretations of Jesus Christ or deny/doubt his historicity.”
Simple denial of the gospel Jesus as a historical figure is the bedrock mythicist position. It is only from that starting point that additional theories can be developed. Theories that can focus purely on mythological ideas or theories that can combine, intertwine, history with mythological elements.
So, lots of mythicist theories – as there are theories for the assumed historical Jesus. See the list Neil has posted from the new Jesus the Carpenter book.
Is Wells a mythicist? Since he holds that his Galilean preacher figure and the Christ figure of Paul have been ‘fused’ into one – two seperate figures fused into one gospel figure, one historical and one figurative or spiritual – then, to my mind at least, he falls under the mythicist label. Also, keep in mind that the Galilean preacher of Wells is not crucified; thus his acknowledgement of a merger, a composite gospel Jesus figure. A merger of history with mythological elements. (which also happens to be my own position – albeit with much differentiation from Wells….)
Why the need to label anyone either/or?
No need except identification of the basic position a person holds. Sure labels can be negative in that they might be used for derogatory purposes. But, surely, positive labels have their uses. Perhaps some people might find they don’t fit into such and such a label or category – all that means that a new category needs to be defined! Labeling stuff seems to be a natural thing to do in order to develope ‘stories’. Differentiation is the spice of life…
If one were wanting to compare mythicist theories with Historicist theories or to give an account of the varieties of both, it would seem helpful to know what constitutes what. It is fairly common to describe theories and theorist as being historical and mythical, so actually knowing which a theory is would seem helpful to that.
MaryHelena, if a mythicist position can attach historical persons to the its “Jesus” then the difference between that theory and a historical Jesus theory would just be degree. A historicist claims that myths are attached to the identity of a historical person, Wells, that a historical person has been attached to a myth. We are then back to quibbling about what the person did vs. what was in the myth.
The basic historicist position is that a Galilean preacher named Jesus was crucified by Pilate. The basic mythicist position is a rejection of this assertion. Wells does not hold the basic historicist position. His Galilean preacher was not crucified. Hence there is no exact equation between the Galilean preacher of Wells and the historical Jesus position. Apples and oranges here.
“My case is that, while some elements in the gospels may have elaborated the career of an actual itinerant Galilean preacher (who was not crucified and certainly not resurrected), the dying and rising Christ of the earliest extant Christian documents cannot be accounted for in this way; and that not until the gospels are these two very different figures fused into one.”
Can We Trust the New Testament?
Can we trust the New Testament?: thoughts on the reliability of Early Christian Testimony. (2003)
By George Albert Wells
“The summary of the argument of The Jesus Legend (1996) and The Jesus Myth (1999a) given in this section of the present work makes it clear that I no longer maintain this position (although the change is perhaps not as evident from the titles of those two books as it might be). The weakness of my earlier position was pressed upon me buy J.D.G. Dunn, who objected that we really cannot plausibly assume that such a complex of traditions as we have in the gospels and their source could have developed within such a short time from the early epistles without a historical basis (Dunn 1985,p.29). My present standpoint is: this complex is not all post-Pauline (Q, or at any rate parts of it, may well be as early as ca. A.D. 50); and – if I am right, against Doherty and Price – it is not all mythical. The essential point, as I see it, is that the Q material, whether or not it suffices as evidence of Jesus’s historicity, refers to a personage who is not to be identified with the dying and rising Christ of the early epistles.”
Although Wells has used Q as a basis for his Galilean Jesus his position could easily survive the downfall of Q. In other words, Wells views the gospel crucifixion story as being linked to Paul’s spiritual Jesus Christ theology. He finds no way to link the Galilean preaching to Paul. So, even if Q gets sidelined his basic position stands – there are two different Jesus stories – Paul’s Jesus and Galilee Jesus. Two separate Jesus stories, one based upon a flesh and blood human, the other on a spiritual construct. When fused together they make up the new creation – the gospel pseudo-historical story of a crucified Jesus under Pilate.
Thus, for historicists to search for a historical Jesus of Nazareth (or wherever…) they are blowing in the wind because no such person existed.
The historicists need to drop the crucifixion of their assumed Galilean historical Jesus figure before they can talk to Wells.
And of course once one goes the route that Wells has taken – that the gospel Jesus figure is a composite figure, a figure that has incorporated human and mythological elements – then one is dealing with an open ended concept. As mythological elements can be wide ranging – so do can the historical elements ie there is no reason that the finished product, the Jesus storyboard, cannot reflect other historical figures besides the Galilean preacher figure. Such a composite Jesus model immediately removes any charge that the Jews were setting up any one man to be mythologized and worshiped – as the non-Jews were wont to do..
The Jesus Legend: George Wells
“If Paul envisaged any historical circumstances for Jesus’s death, he may well have thought of his ‘Christ crucified’ as one of the victims of earlier Jewish rulers. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing near the end of the first century A.D., tells that Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria in the second century B.C., and the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus, of the first century C.C., both caused living Jews to be crucified in Jerusalem (Josephus expressly notes that in these cases this punishment was not inflicted after execution, as it often was). Both periods of persecution are alluded to in Jewish religious literature (for instance in the Dead Sea Scrolls); and Jannaeus’s crucifixion of 800 Pharisees left a strong impression on the Jewish world. Paul’s environment, then, would have knows that pious Jews had been crucified long ago, although dates and circumstances would probably have been known only vaguely.”
My own position finds the crucifixion of Antigonus in 37 bc – the last Hasmonean King/Priest of the Jews – to be a more interesting event as it has a number of parallels with the gospel crucifixion storyline.
Where did you get the parallels? Josephus states that Antigonus Mattathias was beheaded with an ax, not crucified.
Wikipedia: Antigonus II Mattathias
“Josephus states that Marc Antony beheaded Antigonus (Antiquities, XV 1:2 (8-9). Roman historian Dio Cassius says he was crucified. Cassius Dio’s Roman History records: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him.” In his Life of Antony, Plutarch claims that Antony had Antigonus beheaded, “the first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king.””
Cassius Dio: These people Antony entrusted to one Herod to govern, and Antigonus he bound to a cross and flogged,—treatment accorded to no other king by the Romans,—and subsequently slew him. Roman History, Book xlix, c.22
Then it was that Antigonus, without any regard to his former or to his present fortune, came down from the citadel, and fell at Sosius’s feet, who without pitying him at all, upon the change of his condition, laughed at him beyond measure, and called him Antigona. Yet did he not treat him like a woman, or let him go free, but put him into bonds, and kept him in custody…. Sosius ……went away from Jerusalem, leading Antigonus away in bonds to Antony; then did the axe bring him to his end..War: Book 1.ch.18.
..Antigonus, without regard to either his past or present circumstances, came down from the citadel, and fell down at the feet of Sosius, who took no pity of him, in the change of his fortune, but insulted him beyond measure, and called him Antigone [i.e. a woman, and not a man;] yet did he not treat him as if he were a woman, by letting him go at liberty, but put him into bonds, and kept him in close custody……Ant.book 14. Ch.16
. The soldiers mock Jesus: Mark 15.16-20; Matthew 27:27-31. Jesus flogged: John 19:1; Mark 15:15; Matthew 27:26. JC crucified. Trilingual sign over cross: Aramaic, Latin and Greek. gJohn 19.19-21. JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Other variations: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS; THE KING OF THE JEWS; THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
…and then but Herod was afraid lest Antigonus should be kept in prison [only] by Antony, and that when he was carried to Rome by him, he might get his cause to be heard by the senate, and might demonstrate, as he was himself of the royal blood, and Herod but a private man, that therefore it belonged to his sons however to have the kingdom, on account of the family they were of, in case he had himself offended the Romans by what he had done. Out of Herod’s fear of this it was that he, by giving Antony a great deal of money, endeavored to persuade him to have Antigonus slain. Antiquities: Book 14 ch.16.
Judas betrays JC for 30 pieces of silver. Matthew 27.3
Excellent discussion, that clarifies for me anyway, the apparent confusion of G. A. Wells’s stance on HJ vs MJ. A mix of the two is an ingenious solution, and it does capture well the ambiguity of the Gospels’ texts.
Yes, methinks that Wells was/is on to something here. His problem is that he has no historical evidence for his Galilean preacher figure. Indeed, he came to his position re Q – but that does not negate the validity of his idea. i.e. a non-crucified historical figure is relevant to the development of the gospel JC storyboard. In actuality, we have in Hasmonean/Herodian history, two historical figures whose life stories find resonance within the composite gospel JC figure. The execution, by Roman hands, of the last King and High Priest of the Jews, Antigonus; and the long and peaceful life story of Philip the Tetrarch. Combine elements from the life stories of these two historical figures – and one is able to create a symbolic figure like the gospel JC. Sure, mythology is added; theology is added, OT prophetic interpretations are added – but bottom line, grass roots, the gospel JC story does have historical underpinnings. And really, should we expect anything less from a Jewish source? History has always been paramount. Historical realities are relevant and important. Spiritual ideas are the icing on the cake – but without the cake that icing is just too sweet and speculative.;-)
I agree that Herod or his sons are the primary source for the “Jesus” legend. And that Philip, the tetrarch up north/ near Galilee, was a major source. However? Don’t overlook the fact that Herod had 10 wives, and many sons, legitimate and no doubt illegitimate. Some of them by his wife “Mariamne,” or “Mary.” And? When it was rumored that these “sons” of the Lord God Herod, were about to take over the kingdom and become the “lord” themselves? Herod had his sons – the sons of the Lord God – killed. Sons Aistobulus and Alexander, were executed c. 6 BC.
Historically therefore: around the time of Jesus therefore, there were rumors of a “son of the Lord God,” by a “Mary,” who in effect. At least one son who was said to be trying to replace or succeed his Father. But his father allowed his execution. Just as God allowed the execution of Jesus, in the face of accusations that he and his ideas were ursurping traditional Judaism.
Elements of this I suggest, are ALSO main parts of the story of Jesus. Note too that Jesus, son of “Mary,” son of the “lord,” a pretender to the throne, has to flee Jerusalem because, precisely, Herod is trying to execute young males who might try to usurp him.
“Jesus” appears to be a composite of indeed, several major historical persons in this timeframe; but don’t overlook the son(s) of Mary, by the Lord God Herod, as probably conflated elements of this composite, legendary accretion.
Yes, lots of ingredients in that JC dish…;-)
My interest lies in trying to get the historical backdrop to that JC story on the table. Unfortunately, history seems to be the one ingredient that some ahistoricists/mythicits don’t care to add to the mix. And without that dash of ‘salt’ their dish will remain tasteless to the JC historicist camp! That camp wants history – which really means they want some historical reality relevant to that gospel JC story. Offering spiritual, cosmic, type arguments are as water off a duck’s back – useless as a means to further this debate.
“The weakness of my earlier position was pressed upon me buy J.D.G. Dunn, who objected that we really cannot plausibly assume that such a complex of traditions as we have in the gospels and their source could have developed within such a short time from the early epistles without a historical basis (Dunn 1985,p.29).”
Wow, I’m greatly disappointed that Wells was duped by this dubious apologetic into changing his mind. Neither can we “plausibly assume” that an anonymous, ordinary rabbi was deified as God within such a short time, or that the complex high Christology of the Pauline epistles was possible within such a short time, etc.
“Disappointed” re Wells? Well, I, for one, have nothing but respect for a man prepared to move away, publically and in print, from earlier positions that he no longer finds tenable.That’s what scholars are supposed to be doing is it not?
The position of Wells is that his Galilean preacher figure was not crucified. That means that his position is not the historical JC position. What Wells has done is provide the ahistoricist/mythicists with a way forward. Away from a dogmatic stance that everything in the NT story comes from the mind, the imagination, the speculation, of someone going under the name of ‘Paul’. The historical/ahistorical debate is not going to be settled by pipe dreams. Reality has to function somewhere. Ideas, to have relevance for living on terra-firma, have to have relevance, they have to relate to what is known.They have to have a connection, some root, to our physical reality. After all, NT wise, the Jerusalem above requires a Jerusalem below. Historical realities are relevant. It is not yet more interpretations of ‘Paul’ that will settle this debate – how many more do we need before we realize that that way is no way?
The position of Wells – that a historical figure relevant to the gospel JC storyboard was not crucified – is a position that has the potential to widen the current debate – the potential to take it out of it’s current stalemate. Wells should be applauded not sidelined or denigrated.
Cassius Dio wrote his Roman History around 200-230 AD, that is more than 100 years after Josephus’s own writings.
Cassius Dio was far removed from the events in Judaea at the time of Antigonus Mattathias’s death in 37 BC, which had happened 250 years before Cassius Dio’s time.
Cassius Dio had to rely on existing literature and no doubt Josephus must have been a major source concerning events in Judaea.
Perhaps Cassius Dio was influenced by the spreading tales of the J. C. gospels to prefer a crucifixion to a simple beheading by the axe.
But, in our time, with the benefit of hindsight and access to all the writings of Josephus that Cassius Dio’s readers had no way to peruse, it is reasonable to grant more credibility to Josephus’s account than to Cassius Dio’s.
So it is reasonable to accept the version of Antigonus Mattathias being beheaded (à la Josephus) rather than crucified (à la Cassius Dio).
Then this Cassius Dio version could not have been an inspiration for Paul to invent crucifixion as the torture of choice for the martyrdom that his Jesus had to endure to become a sacrifice for other sinning souls.
I personally wonder whether Neil Godfrey, who is an expert when it comes to historic authenticity, would go with Josephus or Cassius Dio in this case. I foresee that he would prefer Josephus.
Neil Godfrey’s opinion — if he has one — in this discussion is completely irrelevant.
Maryhelena: Sure, that is an interesting possibility, in and off itself. But what would that mean? Cassius Dio connecting the gospel crucified JC with the last King and High Priest of the Jews! Great stuff…at the very least it would suggest that this linkage was not only possible in his time – but that people made that connection. i.e. people understood the gospel JC story as allegory, that it reflected, not recorded, important, relevant, historical events in Jewish history.
Maryhelena: More credibility to Josephus – now that’s a can of worms..;-)
Maryhelena: Perhaps Antigonus was flogged on a cross and then beheaded, i.e. he was publically humiliated re Jewish ideas about someone being tied to a stake is accursed. How else was Rome going to have Antigonus rejected by the Jews? i.e. stop any uprising in the name of Antigonus? Simply beheading him would be an honourable death. Whatever the method of the execution of Antigonus by Rome – the fact remains – the last King and High Priest of the Jews was executed by Roman agents. And 70 years later, around 33 c.e., we have, in the gospel story, (re gJohn and gLuke) a crucifixion of a figure who is labeled ‘King of the Jews’.
Maryhelena: ‘Paul’ did not need Cassius Dio for his crucifixion story. Crucifixion of Jews was well known. 800 Jews crucified under Alexander Jannaeus. (mentioned by Wells in one of his books).