Origins of the Jesus myth (Thoughts)

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by Neil Godfrey

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If the gospel narratives have no basis in historical reality then from where might the basic story idea have originated?

Do certain modern studies in the origins of the Old Testament narratives point towards possible explanations for the origins of the gospel narratives?

An explanation for the OT stories

The certain studies of OT origins I have in mind are those of scholars like Thomas L. Thompson and other “minimalists”. They have looked for historical circumstances and events that might explain some of the themes running through the various narratives found in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges and the books of Samuel and Kings. This search was triggered by archaeological finds that indicate there was no patriarchal migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan of the type suggested in the Genesis stories of Abraham, no great exodus of Israelites from Egypt, and no united Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. And rather than there having been a “divided kingdom” with Israel in the north competing with Judah in the south as we read through much of the books of Kings and Chronicles, the kingdom of Judah did not emerge until after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians.

So if the archaeological evidence led to the conclusions that there was no Abraham, no Moses, no David or Solomon as per the biblical story, what can explain the origins of such stories?

First, look at the stories to see what they are about.

The stories of Abraham and Exodus are both about divinely commanded and divinely led migrations from gentile lands to a land of “Canaan” in which dwell peoples of a different religion and race. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the Joshua led tribes, must negotiate with these neighbours to work out settlement arrangements with them, although the Israelites under Joshua do so only after the failure of Plan A which was to kill them all. The stories of Judges, Saul, David and Solomon also carry the themes of relationships with these neighbours: finishing off subjugating them, enlisting them as cheap labour, the importance of keeping God’s elect people “pure” and separate from them.

What sort of society can explain stories like these?

Archaeological evidence has indicated that it was not until the fifth century (Persian era) that Judea/Yehud/Judah reached the social and economic conditions that are necessary for a society to attain a level of literary sophistication capable of producing the above narratives. But how does one explain themes of migration from far off lands and settlement in a land inhabited by another race if archaeology discounts the historical reality of the literal narratives?

Let’s continue with the interpretation of the archaeological remains that has Yehud (the name of Judea/Judah as a Persian province) was populated when the Persian imperial government deported peoples from Mesopotamia to Palestine in order to have that area strategically garrisoned and economically self-supporting. Descendants of Jews who had fled to Egypt and established garrison settlements there after the Babylonian conquest also appear to have returned to Palestine around this time. These newly settled peoples found themselves among locals who did not easily welcome their intrusions into their farmlands.

Mass deportations of populations was a custom as old as the Assyrian empire. One of its purposes was to break the will of newly conquered and potentially rebellious peoples by forcing them into circumstances where they were dependent upon their imperial overlords for protection against unwelcoming neighbours. By moving into new homelands with new gods and among new neighbours they would be obliged to take on a new collective identity.

Sometimes the imperial overlord would use a carrot as well as a stick and tell those to be deported that they were really being restored to their rightful ancestral lands and its gods. It would be their responsibility to restore the true worship of those gods. We see a similar propaganda ploy in 2 Kings 18:31-32 where the Assyrian king attempts to persuade the inhabitants of Jerusalem to volunteer for deportation by offering them a new “promised land” of milk and honey.

What sort of literature would assist in the new identity formation of such a newly settled people? This is where some scholars see the inspiration for stories like the wanderings of Abraham from Mesopotamia to Canaan, and laying claim to this land while he himself, and is immediate heirs, Isaac and Jacob, were still strangers in it. Likewise stories of an exodus from Egypt may have reflected another population movement from peoples among whom there was a mix of strong attachments and extreme loathing of Egyptian culture and influences. Other tales of conflicts with the local Canaanites, and the need to keep racially separate, spoke to the mindset of newly settled peoples among unwelcoming locals.

Such tales can potentially be explained as images of the experience of divinely ordained migrations to a new land where ungodly inhabitants dwelt. Such tales would serve well the function of helping forge a new identity for the new settlers, along with a justification for their presence in an unwelcoming environment.

Other authors (quite apart from the “minimalists” like Thompson) have suggested similar socio-political settings to explain Jewish books like Daniel. This book, for example, tells how a Jew remained loyal to his God despite extreme pressure from imperial powers distant from Palestine. Is it coincidental that many scholars view the book as being composed at a time of tension between the Jews of Palestine and their Seleucid rulers.

Now if this explanation for the Old Testament literature makes some sense, what about the Gospel narratives?

Okay, here’s my mind game.

Finding a matrix for the birth of the Gospel Jesus?

The time setting is 70 to 80 c.e. in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, with too many to think about dead, and multiple thousands enslaved. Many still remained, though. The geographic setting I have in mind is probably not here, though. It is more likely somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, or anywhere (even Rome) where Jews have since been transported as slaves, or where many have fled as refugees, probably among centres where there are other Jews and “god-fearers”.

Christianity has not been heard of, or at least not by that name. There have been a multitude of Jewish sectarians prior to 70 witnessing a kaleidoscope of beliefs and interpretations. Some believed that Isaac had been sacrificed by Abraham and his blood has an atoning power to protect the Jewish people. (He was also resurrected almost the same moment his blood had been shed by Abraham. That’s why the angel had to cry out twice, “Abraham! Abraham!” – Abraham was too slow to react the first time and plunged the knife in to Isaac. So the second call was made and God undid the damage. See my posts of Levenson for the details of this Second Temple belief among a few Jews.)

Many Jews had believed the deaths of their martyrs in the days of the Maccabees also had atoning value for their race.

There was also a strong interest among some (it was not welcomed by many of the Temple establishment) in the Enochian literature with its emphasis on visions, angels, heavenly ascents and descents, secret wisdom, and opposition to the priests who were the caretakers of the Temple and its cult.

That’s all background.

Unlike the above explanations for the Old Testament literature that are grounded in peoples newly planted in “a strange land” of Canaan that they must learn to make their home, we have a reversal of this. We have a people many of whom have lost not only homes and lands, but have even lost the very structures and icons that were central to their earlier collective religious, cultural and ethnic identity. The centre of their Mosaic cultural traditions, the Temple, was no more. Even those Jews who had once disputed with the Temple establishment must have felt bereft once their self-justifying nemesis was razed to the ground.

They were a despised people. Following years saw Jews throughout north Africa and the East Mediterranean region experience serious conflicts with their non-Jewish neighbours and authorities.

How do such a people survive? What binds us together are our various identities. We see ourselves as family members, then more broadly as members of a town or regional area, and the identity circle widens as we move to the level of state or province, a nation, a religion, a race. These group identities are survival structures. We support and find solace among those with whom we identify.

Not only the Jews of Palestine had had a major part of their identity ripped out from their psyches, but no doubt many scattered Jews and gentiles who felt a religious sympathy with the Jews were affected as well. With the end of the Temple the Mosaic traditions were no more.

Some Jews responded to this crisis by rethinking all that had gone before and seeing how they could adapt those customs to a new situation that did not focus on a central geographic location like Jerusalem. This was the beginning of Rabbinic Judaism. To make it a workable substitute, however, it had to have rigid boundaries that gave adherents a clear alternative and something viable to hang on to. It was no doubt far more rigid and monolithic in its base ideas (allowing, of course, for debates within the limits of that monolithic base) than anything that had been widely practiced among Jews before the war and loss of the Temple.

But the diversity of pre-war “Judaism” (probably more accurately “Judaisms“) did not prepare the way for a uniform response to the rabbinic solution.

Does this situation cast an explanatory spotlight on the shape of the gospel narrative?

Their hero is not Moses but the successor of Moses, Joshua (Greek = Jesus). And this Jesus is not really a “hero” in any classical sense of the word. He is a cult-figure, a focus of worship, a mouthpiece for divine law and commands, a vicarious sacrifice with atoning power and a figure who unites all devotees into one body, a new Israel.

He has no home. He is a wanderer. He has forsaken all and gives hope to all others who would, for his sake, forsake all. His time on this earth is only momentary. His real home is in heaven. Or perhaps back on earth in the future after returning in judgement to reverse the fortunes of all who have suffered and punish those powers who have wreaked destruction on the earth.

He is even likened to the Temple itself. Destroy this temple — meaning he will submit his own body for destruction — and in three days he will restore it, he says. His tomb carved out of a rock is an image borrowed from Isaiah 22:16 that describes the Temple itself as a sepulchre carved out of a rock.

His death is identified with the destruction of the Temple, yet it is raised again in a spiritual form.

He is despised and persecuted. Earthly powers seek to kill him. His true worth, his very identity, is not recognized. Those who despise him fail to see he is really a son of God himself! He has the power to give life — if only others would see it. Even his natural family is dead to him.

He is the embodiment of the new Israel. He emerges from the waters of baptism at the word of the Prophets. He is really born of the Prophets themselves. They are where he is found and from where he emerges. He spends a lot of time in the wilderness confronting Satan. He calls those who have ears to hear to be with him.

Is not this the very personification of the predicament of many Jews after the shock of the war of 66-70/73? And the embodiment of a cult reborn with which to preserve and extend their identity?

Many had been made homeless, and all had lost their spiritual home of Jerusalem and the Temple cult. They were despised and persecuted. Such people, I imagine, would need to find survival strength in imagining themselves as the true lights in a world that is blind. They are the true Israel. If they have lost their earthly place, it can only mean they are now belonging with the Father in heaven, and are the “true spiritual” Israel. They identify with the suffering servant of the Prophets.

The Jesus of the gospel narrative embodies the Jewish experience and need for replacement identity post 70 ce. If their Mosaic cult was reduced to dust it was only so that they would be raised to identify instead with its heavenly successor.

Many have seen the gospel narratives being addressed to a persecuted church, given Jesus’ warnings about persecutions. But I wonder if the gospel narrative, and especially the narrative construct of Jesus himself, can be explained at a deeper social-psychological level than that.

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Neil Godfrey

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51 thoughts on “Origins of the Jesus myth (Thoughts)”

  1. Quite an epic story!

    I prefer a much more mundane explanation. Roman society placed value on antiquity. I suppose that the Jewish writings, once available to the masses via translation, would have been valued by the Romans due to their antiquity. Maybe people then began to do, what people always do, that is, they began to interpret it.

    One’s interpretations are usually influenced by pre-existing beliefs and understandings.

    All it took was for some people to find new, but familiar, interpretations based on their pre-existing beliefs and understandings, for a religion like Christianity to begin to form.

    Actually, I think Philo is a period relevant example of how this worked, maybe just in the opposite direction.

        1. I agree. No doubt. But the OT references are the pieces of the quilt. The question I am attempting to address here is what inspired the particular template of Jesus upon which those patches were stitched.

          Those OT passages were selected to create a certain type of Jesus. What was the origin of that “type”? What was it in the experience of the writers that led them to take special notice of those OT passages that happened to support what they must have been looking for?

          I don’t believe they read the OT not having any idea of the sort of things they hoped or wanted to see. That is not how human minds construct coherent narratives.

          1. I think that we can look at the various god portrayals throughout the Roman Empire to see the origins of the characteristics of Jesus. That someone or some group was able to derive such a character from the OT surely means that there was some conception from which to build the framework, prior to building the framework. As Justin later said, what is different about Jesus than what was already believed about the sons of Jupiter? So, in my mind, the concept that drove the framework was already in the air. I just do not discount how much the Romans revered antiquity and, in reality, how much more ancient can you get than, in the tradition of the Jews, the OT? A shiny new religion with an ancient pedigree. Brilliant!

          2. Agreed, the gospel writers searched the OT for passages to create a certain type of Jesus – and the type was:

            Mark 8: 29-30 (New International Version)

            29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
            Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
            30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

            I don’t think there should be any doubt here as to what the gospel writers were doing – looking for support in the OT for a position they wanted to take re a messiah figure, a Christ or anointed figure. The question is who did they pick, or did they pick more than one such figure, historical figures. That’s the interesting historical question. The gospel Jesus is just their re-creation, a prophetic interpretation, of a historical situation. If one stops with the gospel Jesus, as the historicists do, then one won’t get to the history that motivated those gospel writers to draw up their Jesus figure.

            Why not just state outright that such and such a historical figure, or figures, are the figures that the gospel writers found relevant? Because 1) there is no salvation in any man, 2) the Jews were not in the habit of worshiping a man and could not go the route of the ‘pagans’ in embellishing a historical figure to that extent – thus the strong possibility that the Jesus myth figure is a composite figure. Which would remove any charges of idolatry of humans. 3) Paul wants a spiritual Jesus figure – indicating a new focus away from historicity. The gospel Jesus myth is necessary to provide an anchor, a grounding, for Paul’s spiritual construct. Jewish ‘salvation’ history requires a historical interpretation – as in the OT. The Jerusalem above being a parallel to the Jerusalem below ie, spiritual things have their earthly counterpart.

            The historical question resolves around what historical figure, or figures, could have been viewed, by certain sectors of the Jewish population, as relevant to a prophetic, messianic, interpretation of the OT. We do have the gospels – so the fact that certain Jews were thinking along messianic lines is before us. Once the gospel Jesus myth is put aside as the creative interpretation of Jewish history that it is, it becomes possible to consider historical figures of the pre 70 ce period.

            Neil, history, and historical figures, was necessary to get the ball rolling re the NT Jesus myth – after that storyline was up and running, there is no need for the where, when and how of it’s historical backbone. The Jesus myth has a new life of it’s very own. History, in comparison, is dry, dull and messy. It’s the myth that intrigues; it’s the myth that inspires – it’s our intellect that is the motor of our imagination and dreams and hopes. Sure, we have to come back down to earth sometimes – so Paul and his spiritual Jesus construct would never, in the long term, satisfy our human need for connection to another human being. So, the NT writers gave us both – the gospel social welfare Jesus; feeding the hungry and healing the sick; and the spiritual/intellectual Jesus of Paul’s cosmic Christ figure.

            A great achievement I would say.

            1. I suppose that the Jewish origin part is plausible, except for the fact that, unlike the self-deprecation of Jewish authors in the OT, the NT writers basically kicked the Jews to the curb. In the OT, God routinely gets annoyed with the Jews and let’s them go through various trials and tribulations, what God never does is to remove their birthright as the exclusive chosen people of Yahweh. Look at Mark. What is his attitude towards the Jews?

            2. Hi Mary, I think our differences are that you see the gospel Jesus being modelled on a historical political figure, while I see him as arising out of, and meeting the needs of, the Jewish responses to their experiences post 70.

              1. Neil: Hi Mary, I think our differences are that you see the gospel Jesus being modelled on a historical political figure, while I see him as arising out of, and meeting the needs of, the Jewish responses to their experiences post 70.

                Actually, for what it’s worth – some years ago, Earl Doherty replied, on his webpage, to an email of mine:

                “I can well acknowledge that elements of several representative, historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus, since even mythical characters can only be portrayed in terms of human personalities, especially ones from their own time that are familiar and pertinent to the writers of the myths”.

                I don’t have a copy of my email – possibly around 10 years ago. I’ve often thought since then, what a great pity that Earl has not explored this avenue re the situation on the ground, so to speak, from which the gospel myth developed.

              2. I think we see something similar — not as immediately personal, however — in the crucifixion scene of Jesus as a mock Roman triumph, and the exorcism of legion being built around the Roman tenth legion.

  2. I have little faith in NT. But I see that mythical Nazareth is conceded as becoming real in early 2nd Century (because it was mentioned independently by Mt. and Luke):
    On the other hand, many events are doubted because they were known to only one writer.
    Why not apply this valid logic to a point agreed upon by all NT writers, and denied by no one in antiquity, namely the historicity of minimal Jesus Christ?

    1. There are times when we can rely with some confidence on the testimony of one writer. If that one writer is both confirmed as reliable by various means in other areas, and when the same writer expresses an interest in conveying reliable information on a topic we know only from him, then we have reasonable grounds for accepting that testimony.

      On the other hand, if several writers can be shown to independently speak of something, it does not necessarily follow that their common topic is historically valid. How many people independently report UFO sightings or alien abductions?

      It is not a valid method to agree to something because it is agreed to by a majority of NT writers. (Your statement that “all NT writers” agree is not correct.) It would be different if we were talking genetics and the authority of geneticists. But we are talking here about people who for the very large part (not all, I know) are committed Christians and theologians. The majority of them believe in God. Should I therefore on that basis believe in God, too? I want to see the arguments that the majority of theologians use to justify their claims about history.

      After Philo and Josephus we can say no-one in antiquity denied the historicity of Moses and Abraham. That means nothing. No-one in antiquity denied the geocentric model of the universe.

      Rather than accept the majority opinion of NT writers and beliefs of antiquity (especially when many of those NT writers themselves contintue to believe personally in pre-Enlightenment values, methods of inquiry and faiths), why not apply post-Enlightenment standards of historical inquiry and consistent principles of valid logic, and examine the evidence accordingly?

      Notable NT scholar Dale Allison himself admits in his recent book on the historical Jesus that NT scholarly methods of studying Jesus are circular. He admits that and can see no way out of it. (See my recent post/s linking to the one about Allison on Circularity.)

      A secular nonbiblical historian like Hobsbawm, on the other hand, follows a simple method to avoid this logical fallacy at the heart of historical Jesus studies. It is the same requirement acknowledged even by Albert Schweitzer — the necessity of external controls/independent (ideologically independent, that is) evidence. (When McGrath writes a post attempting to lead readers to think that Hobsbawm agrees with the methods of NT theologians he is not being honest. The only point of agreement is that they acknowledge a similar problem. That sort of response from a NT theologian who regularly insists he is also a historian leads me to think too many NT writers too often lack credibility.)

      In other words, approach the question of Christian origins the same way we would study any other historical topic?

  3. Thanks, Neil, for your thoughts re the Origins of the Jesus Myth. As you know from my various posts to your blog, my interest lies in the history that relates to the NT storyline. I don’t, as many mythicists seem to have done, rule out a historical core to the gospel story. Removing all the embellishments re prophetic interpretations and OT parallels, does not remove the possibility that some real history is being indicated here. No, of course not, from a mythicist perspective, no historical Jesus of the gospel storyline – but history nevertheless. History that was seen to be relevant by the gospel writers for their Jesus storyline. The historicists are in error here when they try to establish historicity for the gospel Jesus. And mythicists would be in error if they seek to deny any historical relevance to the gospel story. Often, it seems that the historicists and the mythicists are talking past one another. The actuality could well be something in the middle of these two extreme positions.

    While 70 ce undoubtedly plays a big part in the political realities of the time – it’s only the full stop, so to speak. Prior to that event the Jews were living under a ‘foreigner’ – Herod the Great. His siege of Jerusalem in 37 bc and the political situation that followed also needs to be put into the pot of social/political intrigue. Sure, after 70 ce the psychological impact would be great. But, as always with political upheavals, the roots of the eventual crisis are long and bitter.

    The gospel storyline does, of course, provide a dating structure, the 15th year of Tiberius. Sure, one can discard that date as of no consequence – but it is there. And could well indicate that Jewish history preceding 70 ce was found to be relevant to the gospel writers. If the Jesus myth is all about the social and psychological underpinning of some Jews post 70 ce – why the need for a Jesus story set down pre 70 ce? All that’s needed for a social/psychological origin story, post 70 ce, for the Jesus myth – is Paul – and not the gospel storyline at all.

    That’s the easy part, Paul and his spiritual JC. The hard part is the gospel storyline and providing a motive; a historical motive, for it’s creation and it’s date stamp. Without that job being undertaken, mythicist arguments are really nothing more that ‘up in the air’ philosophizing. The end result being that the historicists are able to run rings around the mythicists with their plain and simple story of a historical JC being at the core of the gospel storyline, and thus of Christian history. Indeed, they are mistaken – but for mythicists to counter their simple story they need to tackle the Hasmonean/Herodian history of the time period. A task that has been made problematic by that ‘man of the moment’, the Hasmonean, Jewish, prophetic historian, Josephus. But at the end of the day, is that not where one would have to look – in a court case – at the prime witness for one’s opponent; the historian that they are producing to supply the historical evidence for their claim. Not just the TF and the James mention – the whole credibility of the prime witness as to his historical competence would have to be demonstrated. Josephus on the stand – that’s where an historical inquiry into early Christianity has to go…

    The verdict on Josephus? He would be thrown out of court; exposed as the prophetic historian he is, an interpreter of dreams and a dreamer of dreams. 🙂

    1. That is why the most critical question that needs to be addressed is what, exactly, did Mark have in mind, when he wrote his gospel, a question that I doubt can be answered.

      1. I’m just glad to find somebody else who sees the importance of the events around 70 for the emergence of Christianity. Commenters here are calling this speculation, but I think you are actually staying close to the facts. The hard facts concern the emergence of Christian literature (the real speculation comes from those who keep insisting on hypothetical oral traditions and hypothetical lost sources) and its temporal proximity to 70, in addition to clear fact of the religion transforming potential of the destruction of the Temple, coupled with the hard fact that Jesus as an atoning sacrifice is a perfect response to the loss of the sacrificial system of the Temple. Those who find this all speculative should take a good look at how events such as the earlier destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile virtually created Judaism as we know it as it permeates the whole Hebrew Bible as well as the Maccabean revolt that initiated a flood of new theological responses and can be seen as the origin of the whole apocalyptic genre. It’s these major events that change religions, not this or that Jewish dude who happens to get himself killed.

        1. Bill

          Of course 70 ce was important re the development of Christianity. It’s the degree of that importance that is questionable. Sure, the drama of 70 ce can be utilized re an application of the rising and dying god mythology. That’s an ancient storyline that can be re-used in multiple forms – from purely intellectual ideas that come and go, to the vegetation that surrounds us.

          However, to get to grips with how Christianity actually got started is an entirely different question altogether. It’s not mythology that is foremost here but actually history – actual history that deals with flesh and blood people.

          As to comparing 70 ce with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 bc to the Babylonians – well, that truly is an interesting comparison. Particularly to the role that Josephus plays in 70 ce – and that of Jeremiah in 586 bc. If 70 ce is to be granted a significant role in the development of early Christianity – then so must Josephus – the living, breathing, Jewish prophet of that time.

          Jeremiah 38:17-20 (New International Version, ©2010)

          17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.’”

          19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me.”

          20 “They will not hand you over,” Jeremiah replied. “Obey the LORD by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared.

          Jeremiah 40:4-6 (New International Version, ©2010)

          4 But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” 5 However, before Jeremiah turned to go,[a] Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.”

          Then the commander gave him provisions and a present and let him go. 6 So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah and stayed with him among the people who were left behind in the land.

          War Book 5 ch.9

          3. So Josephus went round about the wall, and tried to find a place that was out of the reach of their darts, and yet within their hearing, and besought them, in many words, to spare themselves, to spare their country and their temple, and not to be more obdurate in these cases than foreigners themselves; for that the Romans, who had no relation to those things, had a reverence for their sacred rites and places, although they belonged to their enemies,

          4. While Josephus was making this exhortation to the Jews, many of them jested upon him from the wall, and many reproached him; nay, some threw their darts at him: but when he could not himself persuade them by such open good advice, he betook himself to the histories belonging to their own nation, and cried out aloud, “O miserable creatures! are you so unmindful of those that used to assist you, that you will fight by your weapons and by your hands against the Romans? When did we ever conquer any other nation by such means? and when was it that God, who is the Creator of the Jewish people, did not avenge them when they had been injured? Will not you turn again, and look back, and consider whence it is that you fight with such violence, and how great a Supporter you have profanely abused? Will not you recall to mind the prodigious things done for your forefathers and this holy place, and how great enemies of yours were by him subdued under you? I even tremble myself in declaring the works of God before your ears, that are unworthy to hear them; however, hearken to me, that you may be informed how you fight not only against the Romans, but against God himself. ….. And, to speak in general, we can produce no example wherein our fathers got any success by war, or failed of success when without war they committed themselves to God. When they staid at home, they conquered, as pleased their Judge; but when they went out to fight, they were always disappointed: for example, when the king of Babylon besieged this very city, and our king Zedekiah fought against him, contrary to what predictions were made to him by Jeremiah the prophet, he was at once taken prisoner, and saw the city and the temple demolished. Yet how much greater was the moderation of that king, than is that of your present governors, and that of the people then under him, than is that of you at this time! for when Jeremiah cried out aloud, how very angry God was at them, because of their transgressions, and told them they should be taken prisoners, unless they would surrender up their city, neither did the king nor the people put him to death; but for you, (to pass over what you have done within the city, which I am not able to describe as your wickedness deserves,) you abuse me, and throw darts at me, who only exhort you to save yourselves, as being provoked when you are put in mind of your sins, and cannot bear the very mention of those crimes which you every day perpetrate.

          76. But when Titus had composed the troubles in Judea, and conjectured that the lands which I had in Judea would bring me no profit, because a garrison to guard the country was afterward to pitch there, he gave me another country in the plain. And when he was going away to Rome, he made choice of me to sail along with him, and paid me great respect: and when we were come to Rome, I had great care taken of me by Vespasian; for he gave me an apartment in his own house, which he lived in before he came to the empire. He also honored me with the privilege of a Roman citizen, and gave me an annual pension; and continued to respect me to the end of his life…

  4. Besides the fact that this theory involves at least a dozen layers of speculation, it also doesn’t explain why there was a split between the jews and christians and it fails to acknowledge how weak the link is between the jesus story and the Hebrew bible.

    In your telling, demoralized Jews need a myth to keep them together in wake of the destruction of the temple. The problem is that Jesus isn’t the embodiment of true Israel, except to a small fringe group who later became christians. Someone inventing a myth to keep jews together would have been more favorable to Judiasm. The NT writers were angry at Jews, which doesn’t fit your theory IMO.

    What’s more, such a myth would have had a much greater link to the actual bible. The NT references to the Hebrew bible are obscure and lifted completely out of context. So Paul has to stand Abraham’s promise from God on its head. God promised to bless his descendants, but Paul says in Galatians that the promise only referenced one person. That’s ridiculous and it is impossible to imagine that the Jesus myth was invented to keep Jews together when it was a supreme insult to their foundational story.

    No, much more likely is that the real Jesus story didn’t fit into any Hebrew religious context, so his followers were forced to find odd bits of the Hebrew bible in order to try and find some link.

    All these layers of speculation are a lot like christian hermeneutics. Anything is possible, but not everything is likely.

  5. It is a fine piece of speculative literature. If any evidence were to come up to suport it it might be something to look into. Until then though I guess responcible people will only have to deal with facts and the plausible scenerios derived from them, but it is nice to day dream. The Freemasons have a a really romatic one about how there group has been presserving the secrets of pure reason since the days of Solomon’s Temple. I love that stuff, the Indiana Jones movies inspired me as a kid to be interested in the past.

    1. You and pf might like to consider the differences between what I am suggesting and baseless speculation. Did you read the part where I wrote about “responcible” (reminds me of “runcible”) historians who see literary productions reflecting the social-political-cultural experiences of those who produce them? And the part where I alluded to the fact that the details of the gospel narrative do mirror those experiences of a people we believe to be responsible for the origins of Christianity? Literary critics sometimes like to explore the lives and minds of authors to understand the creative processes of their literary works. Creative literature also very often (some would say unavoidably) reflects the values and experiences of the society from which it emanates.

      1. I’m not sure where you wrote about “responsible” historians. I can’t find the word, but it seems you are referring to the portion labeled, “An explanation for the OT stories”. That literature depicting the past was aimed at the present is not anything new or controversial. For all the ancient historians I’ve read, the interest is not in explaining what has happened, but why things are how they are now. So I don’t see any critical student disagreeing with “literary productions reflecting the social-political-cultural experiences of those who produce them”. Not me, not Thompson, McGrath, Crossan, Ehrman, Sanders, Finklestein, etc. The gospels tell us as much about the time they are written as they do about the time they portray. This is useful for dating works like these.

        Your point though is not that works about the past reflect the experiences of those that produce them, but that “the gospel narratives have no basis in historical reality” and “certain modern studies in the origins of the Old Testament narratives point towards possible explanations for the origins of the gospel narratives.” The problem is that the time between Solomon and the time the book of Kings was written is around 350-550 years. Applied to the Gospels, that would have them written around 380-583. I’m not sure even commenters here would be willing to see such a late date. The time between the portrayed time in Daniel and the time it was written is also large, around 375 years. From Ruth to the “time of the Judges”? Over seven hundred years. Other such tales have similar stretch of time. In your wildest hopes, the gospels are depicting a time about 170 prior to the time they were written, and the odds are that it is considerably less. I’m not sure how useful it is to compare the Gospels and Kings on the issue of composition. The time between the event and its depiction is so much shorter.

        On the issue of “the details of the gospel narrative do mirror those experiences of a people we believe to be responsible for the origins of Christianity”, again, that is not in dispute. Quite a bit of what is said is there to address the contemporary issues of the church. It has retorts for the arguments of Pharisees, comfort for when they are tossed from synagogues or have to testify before rulers, etc. Now you say that the experience that is reflected is the Jewish one after the fall of the Temple. But I think a number of stories could be compared favorably to the Jewish experience after 70. What about the fall of Troy and Aeneas? General comparisons don’t demonstrate anything.

        In fact the situations of the disposed Jew’s is also mirrored in the letters of Paul regarding his community and his mission, Paul is a wanderer, Paul is persecuted, Paul’s identity as an Apostle is doubt, Paul envisions the church as the new Israel, Paul believes Christ is the new law and the new atonement for sin. Why should we look past Paul for the inspiration for Christianity? Is it not likely that his experience is like that of other Christian missionaries? Why should we look at later events for the inspiration of the gospels when it is all here? And given that all this is part of a movement that Paul belongs to, his experience need not be imagined to be significantly different from those that were in it earlier than he. It is not surprising that Castro, like Lenin, leads a revolution, or that Lenin, like Marx is forced to move from one country to another.

        The mirroring you allude to doesn’t establish anything about the nature of the text. How could it be used as evidence that it was created as an allegory on the events of 70? It is important in history to separate ones own imagination from what can be demonstrated. In the film “Braveheart”, the hero, William Wallace, is depicted having an affair with a French princess and fathering a child by her, who will become the next King of England. The story, while possible, is a fabrication on the part of the modern author. If one wanted to champion this as a real event, what would be the basis for doing so? That it could be imagined that an affair might have taken place, given unusual circumstance? One might feel the might have happened, but with out evidence, there is no reason to believe it did.

        The reflection you think are in the gospels of the Jewish experience after 70 are just to vague to use as evidence of anything the author was thinking. And none of this equals a Jesus myth. It is an absolutely unconvincing argument for your premise, “If the gospel narratives have no basis in historical reality” . of course if the premise is true, then there has to be some explenation for the Gospels. If it is true that King Kong destroyed the temple, there has to be some explenation for all the evidence that the Romans did it. If I constructed such an explenation, would that prove King Kong destroyed the temple?

        1. You have confused my premise for the point I am trying to prove. My post begins with the understanding that the gospel narratives are not based on literal historical events. I nowhere attempt to argue that point here in this post. That is taken as the given. (The point has been argued elsewhere numerous times from different perspectives.) So if you disagree with that starting assumption the rest of the post will have little interest for you.

          So given that starting assumption, I propose an explanation for the origin of those gospel narratives that fits the details of the portrayal of the one individual the gospel is about — Jesus himself (not church-doctrinal interests in the teachings, but the very character and meaning of Jesus himself) in the gospel narrative.

          Note that my explanation is not an attempt to prove or add weight to the argument that the narrative itself is not based on historical events of a historical Jesus. Note that my post is an attempt to propose an alternative explanation for the narrative of Jesus.

          For this reason your comparisons with Paul, Troy, Braveheart, time spans, completly miss the point of the post.

          1. What is the point of that beyond imaginative speculation? No work like what you describe was actually written under these circumstance, it is just a fun “what if ?” exercise.

            1. Neil, sorry for the hostility, I gave it some thought, and this seems to be an exercise to pitch around for Jesus myth theories, like asking how might have Nero escaped to the east if he had escaped to the east. Beyond simple entertainment provided by an imaginative counterfactual, you could compare the likelyhood of the escape scenerios with the likelyhood of suicide scenerios.

              1. Would you like to say something constructive? Or are you really suggesting that if I discount the historical basis of the gospel narrative I should really not bother ever to attempt to offer an alternative explanation that is tied closely with the details of the evidence we have in the narrative?

                You say you “gave it some thought”. It’s nice to be assured you think before you write, but don’t you think one might be better positioned to offer a constructive comment if one first gave the post some careful reading comprehension? Your comparisons with speculations about Nero indicate to me that you have merely skimmed quickly a few words of my post.

                As for your self admitted hostility, why? What is wrong with a reasoned argument? Why hostility? How do you justify this?

                If you think you might not quite understand a post it might be better to keep quiet.

              2. I felt I was unnecessarily dismissive of of your exercise. I hate crap history, but this isn’t in that category, just an exploration of alternatives. Whether you think the scenario likely or not isn’t the point, only that if the premise is true, what may then be the explanation for Christianity?

                With that given of course many things that may be unlikely are probable. I don’t think that the development of the OT literature is a good fit for the NT material, given the dates I mentioned between the writing and the event, but if there was no Jesus, something would have to explain Christianity.

                On Nero(and I’ve read this article several times, I only thought you were offering a plausible scenario for Christian origins, not a plausible scenario given x) This would be the sort of scenario this would be useful for, you know it’s the sort of thing that comes off as a weird popular rumor and know one really considers it, but it might make a good exercise to look into the possibility. If only fabulous means will get your outcome, then it makes the other theories look rather well founded. It’s like the post on Nazareth, the complexity of the theory explaining Jesus did not come from Nazareth was a good case for Jesus being from Nazareth (on that note, I can’t find any archaeologist who don’t think Nazareth was a village at the time of Pilate, where did you get your information on that?).

              3. Crossan sites a Bagatti that did an excavation in his “Historical Jesus” Its says. p. 18, that extensive remains were found in the second century BCE. He cites ceramics, tombs, olive presses, millstones and silos. Crossan doesn’t seem like on for dishonesty or slip shod research.
                see also


                Basically,I don’t need to entertain any elaborate switchamaroo. The Gospel writers think Jesus come from this place.

              4. I thought you said that you had not been able to find an archaeologist who doubted the existence of Nazareth in the time of Pilate. I took that to mean that you had checked with some archaeologist publications, not just Crossan’s second hand claim about what an archaeologist says.

                I have read the relevant Bagatti publication (Excavations in Nazareth) some years ago. That’s when I first realized how lacking the evidence is. I have also posted on that Nazareth house find on this blog, too. Can I advise you to read the original sources for yourself and quit relying on the authority of one scholar over another, or even on a whole gaggle of scholars if those scholars happen to have personal ideological interests in “proving” the points they wish to establish.

                Are you aware that Bagatti was a Franciscan priest and that Crossan is a faithful believer in Jesus? Do you think it worth while checking the facts for yourself — or at least suspending judgment — given the possibility that some theological scholars just might be influenced just a wee bit by their faith commitments?

                When I first read in the news of the Nazareth house discovery I was struck by two things: (1) the vagueness of the evidence and dating in the report; and (2) the paucity of detail about the key scholar named, Yardena Alexandre. I googled her name and discovered a number of interesing links to interests in Nazareth’s tourism industry.

                See my earlier post on this: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/that-jesus-era-house-in-nazareth-discovery/

                The list itself is now inactive, but do a search for Nazareth and Rene Salm on the old Crosstalk list and see Salm engage with scholars on the topic: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/

                Or you can even look at his website and find his book via interlibrary loand: http://www.nazarethmyth.info/

              5. Given your description of Bagatti’s work, I will presume Crossan described his findings accurately, as I thought he would. Since neither you nor I are archaeologist, our opinions of his work are very useful. I am aware of the biases that both Crossan and Bagatti have but I have encountered no evidence that this causes any gross distortions in their work. Nor is there any evidence to suggest any gross distortion from IAA for tourism purposes. I am never convinced by arguments from vague paranoid conspiracies.

                The biggest difficulty I have with your response is you say instead I should look into the work of Rene Salm. From all appearances he is not an archaeologist, a historian, or an anthropologist. He is not endorsed by any archaeologist, which leads me to think his opinion on this is worthless. I noted that all site that argued against Nazareth in the first century, if they sited anyone, sited salm. This leads me to believe that either these people are ignorant of archaeological work, or, in fact, no archaeologist disputes Nazareth was a first century village. It one did, it would make sense to cite them and not a pseudo-scholar.

                If this is the best case, then I think we can all proceed with, Nazareth; village during the time of Pilate: Proven Fact.

              6. Your argument that a fact is “proven” being based on your ignorance of the works of both Bagatti and Salm, preferrig instead to rely on appeal to authority, is noted.

                Why do you even bother to read my blog? I am not biblical scholar so according to your logic my arguments are entirely worthless.

                You should never read anything that does not have the stamp of approval from the scholarly community, and never bother to read their books — only listen to their conclusions.

                Never feel any need to familiarize yourself with their arguments or evidence cited and never think critically about anything accepted by a majority of biblical scholars.

                And go around saying X is a “Proven Fact” entirely on the authority of the scholarly commmunity while remaining ignorant of their reasons.

                As I said in an earlier post, we are not talking about genetics here. Even lay people can grasp what is being said, and the logic used, in studies of the world of human affairs.

                Your response is nothing but an appeal to authority and a rationale for not bothering to question or critically read what those authorities write. It is a rationale for ignorance.

                “The authorities say this and we don’t have to question them, indeed, it is not our place to question them”, is the sort of thing I have heard from some students in communist China.

              7. Rene Salm simply points out that the Nazareth digs have revealed no evidence of settlements from the relevant times in question — that in fact “no demonstrable evidence dating either to the time of Jesus or to earlier Hellenistic times has been found.” (http://www.nazarethmyth.info/naz3article.html)

                The shrill response from his critics remains focused on the minutiae of his presentation with a heaping dose of character assassination. They have thus far avoided the central issue: The lack of evidence where it would have to be if Nazareth had been inhabited before 70 CE.

                Shouting and foot-stomping can’t (or shouldn’t) create “Proven Facts.”

              8. I included a link to the Crosstalk list to enable everyone to see for themselves how the debate between Salm and a number of professional scholars (including, I think, archaeologist(s)?) has been conducted.

                It is between one side positing facts and evidence and the other, when they have nothing left or are exposed as naked, ranting abusively and insultingly in response. No prizes for guessing which side delivers which.

                Mike’s in principle trust in biblical scholars (including “biblical archaeologists”) is badly misplaced.

  6. I like to think that the origin of Christianity was simply a battle of interpreting the “true” meaning of the OT. If you interepeted it in the way that the Dead Sea Scrolls sectarians did, you were not going to make friends with Rome, and if you carried it “too far” you would not survive. If you interpreted it the way that Pauline Christians did, or rabbinical Judaism, you had a better chance of living. Nothing makes this clearer than the fact that we’ve had the NT and the teachings of rabbinical Judaism all this time, but not the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    I think that the OT was so old and venerated even two thousand years ago that its “story” “had” to mean something to people, even to gentiles, since it had been translated for hundreds of years. If you take the OT at face value, or something more closely approximating such, like the Dead Sea Scrolls sectarians did and some Jewish settlers do today, you will get yourself into a lot of trouble with the people in charge, because it is a very land-based religion. If you interpret the OT more allegorically, like Philo and Paul, you had a better chance of surviving.

    Why would somebody make up Jesus? Because he’s a version or type of “the Messiah” that is friendlier to Rome and less like the militancy of the messianism of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Who would have done this? People like the Chrestians being discussed at historyhuntersinternational.org. My mind is being blown by how high up Christian origins really goes.

    1. There’s something to what you are saying, but I think it is also more complex than simply finding a messiah more favourable to Rome.

      The values expressed by this new Jesus religion were indeed those needed to survive — as slaves, the dispossessed, and the despised. Nietzsche was right in identifying Christian values as the values required of slaves.

      But there was also an iron streak of escapism in the religion. It was an escape to where people found refuge (their identities) in heaven, since they no longer found a home on earth.

      This goes beyond the immediate trauma of the Jewish war and its aftermath. It is something that seemed to resonate with many other lives throughout the Roman world.

      1. My view is that a messiah that is “favorable to Rome” means exactly what you are saying, “something that seemed to resonate with many other lives in the Roman world.” The creation of “Chrestianity” as discussed at history hunters does go beyond the Jewish war, though the war was an outcome of the greater war of interpretation that was occuring between panhellenism and messianic Judaism.

  7. Neil:
    My point was that you conceded a 2nd century Nazareth:
    “I happen to think Matthew is a second century creation, and by that time there really was a village called Nazareth in Galilee.”
    I like this reasonable explanation!

    Given this, I find it very hard to reject the existence of JC, attested to by Matthew and other evangelists. In other words, Matthew and colleagues surely have inflated JC, but they couldn’t have invented him.

    It is false to compare JC to matters of opinion like God or geocentricity.

    Pls understand that I am a student of history, not ideology. I am not even a Christian!

    1. Bruin: “…Matthew and colleagues surely have inflated JC, but they couldn’t have invented him.”

      Matthew, Luke, and John (or at least John’s final editor) did not invent the historical Jesus. They didn’t have to. They were writing in a time in which multiple strains of Christianity were already struggling with one another and against the emerging post-temple Judaism. They were constructing tales that would fend off attacks from Rabbinical Judaism, Docetism, possibly even early gnosticism. I think Price is right in that Matthew is not simply arguing against Paulinism, but Marcionism as well, when he has Jesus say his mission is not to destroy the law and the prophets.

      Mark is a different story. Keep trying to read Mark as if you had never read the rest of the NT. Imagine this is your only window into the story of Jesus. Could this be a post-70 lamentation of “what could have been”? It’s hard to say. We do see anachronistic stories in Mark in which Pharisees appear to be stand-ins for Torah-observant Christians or Jews of Mark’s day. Hence, it appears that Mark was also writing in a time when the historical Jesus had already been invented. However, I do think that the canvas was largely blank when Mark started to paint his portrait. That is, he had a lot of leeway and is likely responsible for large chunks of the narrative, perhaps nearly all of the Passion (unless Crossan is right about the Gospel of Peter).

      (BTW, I don’t see how an uninhabited early first-century Nazareth helps your case.)

      Bruin: “It is false to compare JC to matters of opinion like God or geocentricity.”

      The geocentric universe is not an opinion but a scientific model. It worked, but eventually lost out to the heliocentric model which is simpler and observationally verifiable. The historical Jesus is a reconstruction — an historical model — that tries to explain the evidence at hand, such as it is.

      Granted, there were strong religious reasons for clinging to the geocentric model, and in ancient times nobody would have even thought to argue against it, since it was “received truth.” And that was Neil’s point, I think. The existence of Abraham and Moses were received truths (not opinions). But we don’t have the ancient mindset. We’re permitted to ask, “Did Abraham, Moses, and Jesus really exist? Is there another historical reconstruction that is simpler and makes better sense of the evidence at hand?”

  8. This is really off topic and doesn’t really matter for your arguments but it’s not true that nobody in the ancient world would think to question the geocentric system. As a matter of fact Aristarchus of Samos had proposed a heliocentric model. Archimedes refers to it in his “Sand Reconer” and Ptolemy spends some time rejecting it on the first part of his Almagest.

    As I said not really important for your point, but I couldn’t let it pass. Ancient scientific thought was more sophisticated than we usually give it credit for.

  9. Some of us have said my post falls on the grounds that the gospel authors were anti-Jewish.

    I don’t see the same anti-semitism in Mark as I do in John and Matthew. What we see in Mark is a condemnation of “the old Israel” as an admonition for the “new Israel” (Mark’s audience). This follows the pattern of the OT literature. The OT is a series of theological tales condemning “the old Israel” as a warning to the readers (always a “new Israel”) for whose benefit the stories were composed. The first Israel started out well at the Exodus but slipped badly subsequently in the wilderness; Joshua’s armies began well as genocidal maniacs for God, but degenerated in the end with multiculturalism; we see the same with Saul, with David, with Solomon. That is, as Thompson phrased it, “the never-ending story of the OT. I think Mark fits this same “genre” (if that is the correct term for this).

    1. They say Matthew is at the same time very Jewish and very anti-Jewish. Now that makes sense right? I don’t see him as anti-Jewish at all, he’s just very anti certain groups of Jews, especially the Pharisees as they are the roots of emerging Rabbinical Judaism and the Jews that were closely associated with the Temple practices (chief priests and Sadducees). This is all not very surprising if the Jewish roots of the Christians can be found in a group of Essenes (or at least a group strongly associated with the Essenes) who were already antagonistic towards the authorities around the Temple. Scholars have often wondered what to do with the striking similarities between the early Christians and the Essenes. If you want to understand the Jewish roots of the Christians I say start with the Shepherd of Hermas.

      1. The Jewish roots of Christianity connected somehow to the Essenes? I’m with Rachel Elior on the Essenes. They did not exist as a historical group. They are purely a philosophical ideal of the Jewish philosopher Philo. However, that said, the philosophical ideal of a sexless community (no marriage) within a Jewish context is rather interesting. Strange, but perhaps could be viewed as the seed that generated the later ideas of Paul – his spiritual construct where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female; for you are all one in JC.

        Philo, of course, was in Alexandria – but the fact that he was philosophizing re an ideal community in the land of Palestine (and Syria) does give rise to questions as to what would have motivated his thinking in this regard. Philo dies around 50 ce. An eyewitness – even if from afar – to the political situation of the gospel time frame. And the man comes up with his grand philosophical ideal. What stirred his imagination during those years? We do have the gospel storyline that is dated to his time period – and yet, seemingly, the man says zero regarding developments re new theological developments at that time – or is it that we can’t read between the lines. Secrecy? A people occupied by a foreign power are not going to lay all their cards on the table…

        Ideas don’t just drop out of the sky (as per Paul and his vision), they come from human minds. Did Philo start the move towards a non-Jewish, or rather a move towards a more inclusive Jewish identity – even if that inclusiveness necessitated a spiritual, sexless, counterpart to the earthly, physical Jewish context? His alien, to Jewish culture, philosophical Essene ideal, could well suggest that he was interested in doing something on the grand scale of Jewish theological developments.

    2. Not sure if you were responding to me, but if so, I never said that Mark was anti-semitic. My point was that, in Mark, Jewish exclusivity ends. The risen Jesus does not return to Jerusalem, (instead he goes to Galilee of the gentiles). So, the “New Israel”, is no longer, in fact, Israel. Kicked to the proverbial curb…

      This is the end of the Mosaic covenant, and the kicker is that the lead-up to this was all, ironically, done in secret and, even more ironically, stayed a secret.

      So, though there can be no doubt about the literature that drove this production, however it seems to me the producer was definitely from out of town.

      (I do have a suspicion that the Father might not have been Yahweh, but that changes everything.)

  10. You wrote: “So if the archaeological evidence led to the conclusions that there was no Abraham, no Moses, no David or Solomon as per the biblical story, what can explain the origins of such stories?”

    Thanks for a fascinating post on this and other questions. Regrettably, Niels Peter Lemche is rather short on the issue:

    “Why does this book of Joshua present information about a conquest that never happened? (…) One possible answer could be that the tradition of Israel’s foreign origin was invented at a later date in order to _create_ a racially pure Israelite nation. An extensive number of passages in Joshua and other places in the Old Testament may be called upon in support of this answer, starting with the book of genesis and continuing right through to the book of Ezra the Scribe. In case we prefer to continue along this line of thought, the next question will probably be, When did the impetus arise that created the milieu of such an idea of racial purity of the Israelite people in contrast to other nations living in its land, as this claim cannot be supported by historical evidence? The correct answer to that question will be that such an idea arose the moment certain individuals who considered themselves to be _Israelites_ saw other individuals who they did not consider to be Israelites to be occupying ‘their’ land. Evidently — in light of what we know about Israel’s origins — this claim to be pure Israelites destined to inherit the land must be a late development, and it most probably turns the book of Joshua into a post-exilic book written by an author — or a number of authors — who can scarcely have lived in the land to be conquered. This says that the book of Joshua is 1) post-exilic and 2) literature from the Jewish diaspora…” (Lemche, “The Old Testament – a Hellenistic book?”).

    I note that, in contrast to Lemche, you seem to be proposing an approach that would involve a massive migration of diaspora Jews to Palestine.

    You also wrote: “Mass deportation of populations was a custom as old as the Assyrian empire.” Please allow me to note that the paradigm of uprooting and exile can be challenged on many grounds. One question is, Did ancient civilizations have the means to deport whole populations? Today we have trucks, trains, and great ships. Thousands of years ago, the technological capabilities were much more limited. As an example, consider the conquest of Dacia completed by Trajan. Modern scholars keep speaking of “ethnic cleansing,” but this is certainly a wild exaggeration. Archaeology has proven that there was continuity of the indigenous population alongside Roman settlers (cf. D. Ruscu’s essay from 2004: “The supposed extermination of the Dacians”). An even better example is, of course, the “second exile” of the Jews in the year 70 CE. I think we may safely assume that the Romans never deported entire peoples. According to Israel Jacob Yuval and others, the idea of a second exile may actually derive from Justin Martyr, “who in the mid-second century linked the expulsion of circumcised men from Jerusalem after the Bar Kokhba revolt with divine collective punishment” (Shlomo Sand).

    1. We have the recorded testimony of Assyrian and Babylonian rulers about their deportations, and the Bible itself is a witness to the practice, is it not? Are you suggesting they may not have (or did not) happen? One study that went into the evidence in some depth is Oded’s Mass Deportations and Deportees in the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

      My recollection of the evidence is that the deportations usually involved the upper classes in particular and their retainers, and those needed for specific types of tasks. The archaelogical evidence, from what I recall, supports the Biblical claim of deportations from the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians, for example. It is generally accepted, however, that these deportations did not remove every single person from an area. The poorer and rural populations would be largely left behind. These were there as the unwelcoming “people of the land” when a new population was later imported into their area.

      I would be surprised if the evidence for Assyrian, Babylonian and Medo-Persian mass population transfers is overturned.

      Alexander made a break with the custom by encouraging mingling and mixing.

      You are right about the scenario of Judea in 70. While there were many slaves deported the “nation” itself was not removed and it did continue right through clearly to the 130’s and the Bar Kohba rebellion. The Romans did not have the same deportation policies as the earlier empires of the Assyrians through to the Persians.

      1. Thanks for elucidating and sharing. I am particularly grateful for the reference to Bustenay Oded, Mass deportations and deportees in the Neo-Assyrian Empire (1979).

        What I read into your text, or at least the aspect that puzzled me most, was an inclination to view the “second exile” as a sort of repetition of the distant Babylonian exile. For instance, you wrote: “Many had been made homeless, and all had lost their spiritual home of Jerusalem and the Temple cult. They were despised and persecuted…”

        I do not deny that the Romans destroyed the Temple, and that thousands were killed or taken captives. Yet I feel that Yuval’s warning may be worth bearing in mind. Our notions of what happened in 70 CE are, to a large extent, shaped by Justin Martyr, Tertullian and other Christian writers, who claimed that, because of the Jews’ “sin” (the crucifixion), the prophecies of Leviticus 26:41 and Isaiah 1:7 had come true. Yuval notes: “The Christianization of the Land of Israel by Constantine in the fourth century brought Jews to consider that Christians were correct in claiming that the Holy Land was progressively slipping from Jewish hands and that a new exile … had begun” (The Myth of the Jewish Exile, pp. 25-26). A Jewish answer, he wittingly remarks, should have been available: “Here we dwell, we, our elders, our wives, and our children, in Caesaria and in Sepphoris, in Tiberias and in Usha, and even in Lydda and in Eshtamoa. We did not leave our land, and our heritage has not been given to strangers.”

        One other aspect that caught my eye was the degree of Judeophobia you seem to be attributing to the ancient world: “They [i.e., the Jews] were a despised people…” etc. The expulsion of Jews from Rome in 19 CE has been convincingly interpreted as a response to a growing number of Jewish proselytes in the full sense of the word (see Schäfer, Judeophobia, 1997); and, in a recent genetic study, the authors assumed that “recorded mass conversions led to 6 million people practicing Judaism in Roman times or up to 10% of the population of the Roman Empire” (Gil Atzmon et al., Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era, 2010). What I am trying to say is that the birth of the gospels need not be seen solely as a Jewish response to Judeophobia and the destruction of the Temple. A certain fraction of the non-Jewish population admired Judaism enough to wish to become Jewish. However, from the second century on, Roman law created mighty barriers, at least as far as male proselytes were concerned. Was Christianity the answer?

        I just have a vague feeling that the roots of earliest Christianity should be sought above all at the interface between Judaism and the pagan surroundings. That said, I do not dismiss what you are saying, and I am looking forward to studying the above post in greater depth.

        1. Ah, I see now where your questions are coming from. No no, I don’t mean to suggest that what happened in 70 was a similar type of “mass deportation” as we understand from the Persian-Babylonian-Assyrian eras. What I was thinking of in relation to the deportation in Persian times was actually something of a reverse situation to the 70 event. It was a situation where new peoples were brought into Judea. They were obliged to adopt a new identity in their new land of Judea amidst a largely unwelcoming “people of the land” already there.

          The trauma of 70 that I was attempting to address was primarily the loss of identity that came with the destruction of the Temple. That affected not only religious Jews in Jerusalem but world-wide. And not only “religious” Jews — such an institution was the heart of offerings, pilgrimages and collective consciousness for Jews everywhere, I would imagine. There was the trauma of physical losses (including families and communities) but what exacerbated these was the loss of the foundations of their traditional identity. (People survive by pulling together through these larger community identities. New identities were sorely needed: hence rabbinic Judaism and Christianity (and certain gnostics, too?).

          I am aware that there has been much wild exaggeration from both Christian and even some Jewish quarters over stories of “exile” from Judea in 70 and don’t mean to repeat any of that. Those myths are ideologically driven by both parties and do not sit with the evidence, as you point out.

          The anti-Jewish feeling I am thinking of is that which followed in the wake of that war. We see it erupting in anti-Jewish riots across North Africa and the East Mediterranean world into the second century.

          I fully agree that Christianity was born among non-Jews as well as Jews. But the stories of Jewish sectarians of various stripes were a core component. (There was also in this same region a widespread cult of an “Unknown God” or some similar title that I would love to find time to organize a post on.) Their world also was surely dislocated with the destruction of the Temple and all that had been hanging on that.

  11. Dear Bill Warrant

    In your article was published on 28/1/2011 at 5:22 pm.

    The Essene did existed under the name of Sons of Zadok as High Priest in High Priesthood (chief priest to King David) these are the ones who lost their ancient royal priesthood.

    Did Rachel Elior said anything regarding to the Essene ancient royal records about the title that was used for the Essene priests known as Teacher of Righteousness?

    Many thanks

    John Stuart

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