The various historical Jesus explanations for Christian origins are without analogy, are highly improbable, and rely on filling in gaps with “something unknown” or “something we don’t understand”.
How plausible is it, after all, that all of the following somehow come together in a coherent “explanation”:
- Jews scarcely believing Jesus was nothing more than a prophet while alive, or worse, with a handful thinking him a “Davidic messiah”;
- Jesus dying the death of a criminal, as a failed prophet or failed messiah;
- Jews very quickly after his death coming to believe [through some unexplained process] that he was a resurrected divinity to be worshiped alongside God, even creator and sustainer of the universe, and whose flesh and blood were to be symbolically eaten;
- Jewish followers persuading large numbers of other Jews and gentiles who had never seen him to worship him thus, also?
How plausible is it that
- the many earliest references to such a historical person who performed astonishing miracles, delivered precepts on the sabbath and divorce and other Jewish rituals, suffered as a martyr, . . .
- — how plausible is it that the many earliest references to such a historical person ignore all of these details of his life;
- yet on the contrary, speak of his flesh and crucifixion as entirely mystical or theological phenomena that cohere with the well known ancient paradigm of divinities above working out the conversion experiences of mortals below;
- and that also speak of the revelation of the Gospel (not of Jesus himself) in the Scriptures, and point to Scriptures, not the life or miracles of Jesus, as the “revelation” of “the mystery of the gospel” that can only be grasped by spiritual gift (not historical evidence)?
How plausible is it that
- there are no biographical or historical accounts of the life and person of one who reportedly attracted a following of multitudes from Tyre and Sidon and beyond Jordan and Jerusalem and Idumea, who came to the hostile attention of Herod and Pilate and the entire religious establishment?
- the only accounts we have of such a person are not witnessed until the second century,
- the same accounts contain anachronisms (e.g. Pharisees and synagogues dotting Galilee, hostile Christian views of rabbinic Judaism) that further suggest a very late composition,
- and are brief tracts that demonstrate an incestuous literary relationship,
- and that are primarily theological treatises promoting theological agendas above anything else?
- and that such a historical Jesus in each of these gospels should be little more than a cardboard cutout mouthpiece for various (unoriginal) sayings and acts that are often demonstrably cut from OT narratives and characters?
- that there is no reliable independent verification in the historical record for the historicity of such a person?
A funny thing about the above points is that they are often adhered to on the grounds that “no-one would have made up the Christian narrative. This strikes me as something of a Tertullian defence: “It is absurd, therefore [the first Christians, and] I believe”. This explanation, as far as I am aware, flies in the face of all that we can expect or that we can see recorded of human experience.
How much more plausible is it that
- the basic idea behind the gospel narratives was the template of pagan gods appearing on earth in the likeness of men, and ascending heavenward again, often after death, — a fact that Church Fathers conceded with apologies— and mirrored in popular Jewish literature, such as Tobit and certain Second Temple interpretations of angelic/divine visits to earth in Jewish scriptures? (Besides, divinities have been known to find expression as historical persons — compare Celtic and Norse gods generating King Arthur and William Tell);
- many of the literary features of popular literature of the day, including novels in which escapes from crucifixions, apparent resurrections and ascents to heaven, visions, interventions of gods, prophecies, miracles, plots built around identity confusion, sea adventures and prison escapes, unjust trials, that were all very common and much loved tropes, with puns for personal and geographical names, should be the natural vehicles of composing a story that was parabolic or relatively new for its audiences?
- such a religion might evolve out of that “wing” of Second Temple Judaism that acknowledged the high heavenly roles of the Heavenly Adam and other heavenly figures such Jacob, Elijah, the Logos, personified Wisdom, Son of Man, in Enochian and other apocalyptic literature, with its emphasis on visions, prophecies, “wisdom”, angels and demons;
- such out of such a religious set was crystallized something that met the spiritual demands of many Jews in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 — with at least a significant number of others establishing rabbinic Judaism as an alternative and rival response to this crisis?
- such a new religion embraced such Second Temple period views as the atoning, salvific blood of a resurrected Isaac (and of Jewish martyrs generally), as well as spiritual or personal interpretations of a Logos-dying-and-rising-Messiah-Son of Man figure?
- that the historical earthly appearance of Jesus emerged as a response to rival claims of sects to be heirs to various traditions traceable back to a spirit-heavenly, and post resurrection, Jesus; it was one-up-manship to trace back to contact prior to the resurrection, among disciples who had lived with the hero; the only counters to this seem to have been that such a story was a fable (allegory) or the disciples remained ignorant of the master’s teachings.
The reason I particularly like points 4 and 6 of the last cluster is because they offer explanatory and specific historical contexts for the emergence of certain distinguishing features of Christianity.
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