Still catching up with other questions that have bypassed the comments lists on the blog. I’m sure many readers have responses that will be more cogent and comprehensive than mine, so welcome a collective wisdom. They’re not questions I have thought a huge amount about so only have a few sketchy comments to make.
Here are the next two questions for us (courtesy of Nate).
1. All honest historians agree that the Holy Family’s trip to Bethlehem (either to flee from a raging king, or for the sake of a census) is absolute rubbish. It’s obvious that the Gospel authors need Jesus to be born in Bethlehem for Davidic symbolism and the purposes of prophecy fulfillment. But if there was no historical Jesus whatsoever, then why deal with a town like Nazareth in the story? I know archaeology has shown that there wasn’t really much a Nazareth to speak of in the relevant time period, so if we were Gospel writers, why not just have Mary and Joseph situated in their home town of Bethlehem? Why make up the plot element of them being in Nazareth and having to trek back to Bethlehem, only to come back to Nazareth, a place of utter insignificance, later on? Why not leave that complication completely out of the story if you’re trying to pass your fictitious character off as historical?
I’m far from being on top of all the studies that have been written on the Nazareth epithet about Jesus, and I’m sure someone reading this will have a lot more detail at their fingertips. Tim?
Besides, my own explanation hangs on several other propositions that many would consider far-left field. So I’m sure others have more “saner” explanations.
It appears that a significant body of Christians around the Syria-Levant region called themselves something like “Nazarenes” (Nazoreans?), and their Jesus was Jesus the “Naz—-” (sorry, I don’t have the actual transliterations handy.) The name probably meant something like “keeper” or “observer”.
This group of Christians appears to have been significant enough for even a late catholicizing narrative like Acts to co-opt the name for Christians in Paul’s day. (See Tim’s earlier comment.)
Matthew was much more mainstream than whoever were these “Nazoreans” (his gospel was the most popular one through much of the second century), and he disposed of them by changing the meaning of the name and taking their Jesus of Nazareth into the ranks of his “orthodoxy”. Hence his crude force-fit of “Nazarene” meaning from a person from a prophesied town that was not really prophesied in the OT. (Matt. 2:23)
I happen to think Matthew is a second-century creation, and by that time there really was a village called Nazareth in Galilee. Matthew was familiar with Pharisaical teaching and Pharisees had moved into the region after the fall of Jerusalem in 70. So population growth, Pharisees and synagogues appear, and the town of Nazareth, too. It’s Matthew’s anachronistic setting for Jesus some decades earlier.
By the time Luke was on the scene he knew the “tradition” well that Nazareth had been assigned the hometown of Jesus by the “orthodox” so also included it in his gospel.
Mark’s and John’s references to Nazareth, I suspect, were late additions. We know John’s gospel is multilayered with redactions over time. Mark 1:9 has raised questions in the minds of some who wonder why Matthew did not copy that word along with all the others from that section of Mark that he did copy. Makes one suspect Matthew did not see that word in his version of Mark.
2. I’ve heard numerous explanations from mythicists of various stripes….but what’s your preferred explanation for why women (with zero credibility) were the discoverers of the empty tomb in the gospel tradition? I know this falls under the criteria of embarrassment, but different instances of this criteria are often answered in different ways. I was wondering how you personally make sense of this specific issue – if this is fiction, why not posit a gang of credible witnesses instead of women (1 or 2 or even 3), none of which would have their testimony count in the places where it would matter?
2. Women witnesses at the tomb
Not really an explanation, but just thoughts . . . .
Women were stereotypically at tombs or the funerals in many ancient narratives beginning with Homer.
I really don’t follow the criterion of embarrassment argument here since no-one believed the women anyway.
If it’s fiction, the women are acting true to type: they’re the principal mourners, no-one believes what they see.
I have read that it is also a typical motif in narratives, myths, for a god or divinity of some sort to make unexpected appearances in front of socially less credible members of the community, just to show up the leaders and humble them a bit. I have read this is a common theme, but I don’t have examples off the top of my head, sorry. Will keep a lookout for some and post them here. (We have the same in the angel visiting Manoah’s unnamed wife, twice. The reader is meant to laugh at Manoah getting his chauvinistic comeuppance, I think.)
It’s interesting that we have that section in 1 Corinthians 15 where a list of witnesses meant to impress is given. Not a woman among them, unless we include some among the 500.
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