2011-07-25

Response to McGrath’s review of Doherty’s chapter 9

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by Neil Godfrey

Lxx minor prophets
Lxx minor prophets: Image via Wikipedia

Dr McGrath’s review of Chapter 9 of Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man conveys no idea to the uninformed reader what the chapter is about. So to make up that lack (surely scholarly reviews should give readers some clear idea of what exactly is being reviewed!) I outline the content of the Doherty’s chapter here in the process of responding to McGrath’s review, and in particular to a fundamental misreading on McGrath’s part that resulted in his post being an unfortunate travesty rather than a serious review.

In chapter 8 Doherty had argued that Paul’s source for his understanding of the gospel and Christ was primarily revelation through the Jewish scriptures. In chapter 9, the chapter being discussed here, Doherty addresses another influence that guided Paul’s interpretation of those scriptures – the dominant philosophical and theological ideas in the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds of his day.

(Where there are any quotations in bold type that is entirely my own emphasis — not Doherty’s. All or most of the scripture references are hyperlinked to see the full text. )

Greek Philosophy and the Logos

The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza ...
Image via Wikipedia

First Doherty sums up the Platonic conception of God. He was “an Absolute Being, a Unity . . . pure mind and . . . pure spirit.” This transcendent God was too perfect to have any direct dealings with the world.

There was also Stoicism, and the view of God in this philosophy was that he/it was the living within everything. God was the governing and guiding principle of the universe – the “Logos”. It lived in mankind as the mind of God itself, or Reason, so within mankind dwelt the nature of God, or the Logos.

The Platonic idea of God could be of little direct comfort or benefit to humans. But Plato and his followers postulated the idea that this God generated other Ideas that were specific emanations or “personifications” of parts of his thoughts and nature. These would be broken down into further Ideas or “entities”. One of these, the Demiurge, took responsibility for creating the physical world. “All of these elements of the mind of God, his Ideas, the creative forces, were seen as ‘intermediate’ and came collectively to be referred to by the term Logos (literally, “Word”).“(p. 92)

The impulse of the age was to bring the intermediary between God and the world closer to matter, make him more personal, more accessible on a human level. A strong monotheist like Philo – the most prominent philosopher of Hellenistic Judaism – stopped short of making his Son and Logos a personal divine being. Instead, he envisioned Moses as a man into whom the power and qualities of the spiritual Logos had been infused. But other Jews did not feel the same rigid restrictions toward God, and could envision their Son as a personal entity beside God in heaven. From the Logos of the Greek and Philonic philosophy to Paul’s Christ was scarcely a stone’s throw. (p. 92)

Jewish Personified Wisdom

The Jewish philosopher Philo, and the author of the Book of Hebrews, are evidence that there were Jews who adapted the idea of Logos to try to amalgamate Greek and Jewish thought into one.

But more mainstream Jews hewing entirely to their own writings had another mediating figure between themselves and God. That mediator was Wisdom, a female.

Wisdom took on a status and personality of her own, developing “myths” about coming to earth, although there was never any thought of her being physically incarnated. (p. 92)

So we have Proverbs 8:1-36. (Follow the hyperlink)

So Wisdom is both pre-existent and associated with God in the work of creation (Proverbs 3:19). These are two primary attributes of Paul’s Christ, of course.

We also have Baruch 3:37

And Sirach 24

And the Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-30

The Son as Wisdom and the Logos

Personification of wisdom (in Greek,
The Jews were not the only ones to personify Wisdom: Image via Wikipedia

Paul and other early Christian writers are speaking of Christ in exactly the same language as we find in the broader philosophical world, both Greek and Jewish. Paul’s idea of the spiritual Son has absorbed both the Logos and personified Wisdom. . . . Paul is drawing on the prominent ideas of his day and the deeper philosophical heritage which lay behind them. (p. 94)

McGrath has dismissed this argument of Doherty by saying that scholarship disagrees with none of this. Doherty’s readers also know scholarship knows it all, too, because Doherty wrote immediately after the above:

Scholarship fully recognized this, of course . . . . (p. 94)

So where is the difference between Doherty and mainstream scholarship here?

Doherty explains that scholarship believes that all the above philosophical ideas of the day were applied to the human historical Jesus. The mainstream idea is that the followers who knew Jesus were so overwhelmed by him that, after his death and feeling that he was still present with them, they came to apply all of these grandiose ideas to him. (Doherty also remarks that in the process of doing this it must be assumed they also lost much of their former interest in the details of his life and teachings.)

The inherent fallacy in such a scenario is easy to see. In the above passages, early Christian writers are presenting the Son as “the image of the invisible God,” etc. They are describing a divine figure in terms of divine attributes. No identification with a human man is ever made, no writer gives us even a hint that an “application” to an historical Jesus is anywhere in their minds. As suggested earlier, scholars are guilty of reading into the text things they find hard to believe are not there. (p. 94 – I have bolded the phrases McGrath omitted. The context demonstrates that McGrath misread Doherty. Most of the rest of his review is based on this misreading. McGrath even suggests Doherty is being dishonest or blind. One might wonder about the honesty or sight of one who does the misquoting.)

A Channel between God and the World – the meaning of “in/through Christ”

Ever wondered about all those odd “in Christ” and “through Jesus Christ” phrases in Paul? Doherty’s explanation puts them in a most interesting perspective in light of the above.

Paul’s Christ, like Wisdom and the Logos, is God’s channel in his dealings with the world. Paul has an expression to convey this idea.

In the letters of Paul and those who later wrote in his name, we find the phrase “in Christ Jesus” or “through Christ Jesus” over a hundred times. With Wisdom and the Logos in mind, we can see just what this phrase means.

In Romans 6:11 Paul is using the idea of “in Christ” to represent a channel of contact with God; Christ is the means by which Christians are “alive” to God. The intermediary channel is a force in the present, something spiritual; it has no reference to a recent historical person or event.

Again see the opening verses of 1 Corinthians, and Romans 8:39, Titus 3:4-6

The phrases refer to Christ as the medium linking believers to God, or the spiritual force that conveys the love of God and that allows believers to come to God.

The saving acts which have occurred in the present time are not the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are God’s granting of the rite of baptism and the bestowing of the Spirit. The heavenly Christ is the channel along which this Spirit has flowed from God to the world.

Christ then operates entirely on a spiritual level. He is a communicating and sacramental power now present in the world, impregnating the hearts and minds of believers. These are mystical ideas, and there is no justification for scholarship’s frequent attempt to see the Pauline phrase “in or through Christ” as a cryptic summary of Jesus’ life on earth. (p. 95)

Sending the Spirit of Christ

So in the epistles we find that God’s Son “is an entity that is only now being revealed to the world, but he is also a Son who has been ‘sent’ into the world.”

Early Christians saw the spiritual Christ as having arrived in a real way, active and speaking through themselves. (p. 95)

So although when we read of the sending of the Spirit of God we are generally required to think of this as the Holy Spirit, there are also times when an explicit identification of this Spirit is made with Christ. So Christ is himself sometimes depicted as a Spirit. See, for example, Philippians 1:19.

See also Galatians 4:6, 1 John 5:20 – the Son is working in and among Christians now.

In Ephesians 2:17 we read of Christ “coming” but then Paul quotes Isaiah 57:19 to give us his teaching when he comes. And even the coming to deliver good news itself is not taken from historical memory but from Isaiah 52:7.

Hebrews 5:7 speaks of the “activities” of Christ in the flesh, but all the activities listed in Hebrews are from scripture, not historical memory.

At every turn in the epistles we meet a Son and Christ who has taken shape in the minds of the early Christians under the influence of the Jewish sacred writings. (p. 96)

A Christ Who Inhabits the World of Scripture

This has led to an important insight into how the early Christians viewed Christ. Not only is the Son revealed in scripture, the Son speaks from scripture. Certain passages in the sacred writings were regarded as the voice of the Son speaking directly to the world. (p. 96)

The Book of Hebrews especially illustrates this point. It begins by declaring that God has spoken in the final days to us through his Son, but not a single saying of Jesus is taken from his historical ministry, and there is not even a reference that he ever had an earthly ministry.

Of all the times Jesus spoke of “his brothers” in the Gospels, not once does the author of Hebrews refer to them, but bypasses them all in preference for quoting Psalm 22:22 to affirm that Christ says he will call his followers his brothers.

Another interesting detail is that very often the sayings of Jesus are prefaced by the present tense “he says” (not “he said”) – “showing that in the writer’s mind, the Son is an entity who is known and communicates now and today, speaking through the sacred writings, not through any past preaching career on earth.” (p. 96)

Even at the end of the century we read in 1 Clement 22 the author quoting Psalm 34 as a personal call from Christ. In 1 Clement 16:15-16 when describing Christ’s sufferings, he relies entirely on Psalm 22.

In early Christian thought Christ was a spiritual figure, a present force who was accessible through the sacred writings. Scripture was not the prophecy of the Christ event, but its embodiment. The Son inhabited the spiritual world of the scriptures, God’s window onto the unseen true reality. (p. 96)

 

The famous Greek word logos — “word, speech, a...
The famous Greek word logos — “word, speech, argument, ratio, etc.”: Image via Wikipedia

End of my outline of chapter 9 and response to MGrath’s review. (There was not much to respond to — it was mainly a tirade spiralling out from the erroneous assertion that Doherty says there is no hint of a historical Jesus in the epistles.)

Doherty himself responded to McGrath’s review and I posted that here recently as a separate post.

Postscript:

When I challenged McGrath on his mistaken manner of quoting Doherty on page 94 he defended himself by saying that Doherty said the same thing (as McGrath misconstrued into page 94) on page 19. That claim was equally mistaken and I responded. But I leave here with Doherty’s response (the link here will take you to this response ‘in situ’ and other exchanges, including McGrath’s response, can be read there):

You still haven’t got it right, Jim. My “earlier in the book” statement (p.19) had a broader application than the one which you misrepresented in chapter 9, but it still holds good. As quoted by you:

“Thus, we are left with an entire corpus of early Christian correspondence which gives us no indication that the divine Christ these writers look to for salvation is to be identified with the man Jesus of Nazareth whom the Gospels place in the early 1st century – or, indeed, with any man in their recent past” (p.19).

First of all, you failed to point out that this quote followed on a brief preliminary noting of three passages which “present apparent exceptions” to my statement (p.17) that all the epistles fail to identify their Son and Christ with a recent incarnation, that an equation such as “Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah” is missing from all early Christian correspondence, and that the Jesus of the epistles is never spoken of as a man who had recently lived. Those three “apparent exceptions” are 1 Thess. 2:15-16 (generally regarded as an interpolation), 1 Timothy 6:13 (from a second-century document), and the Lord’s Supper scene in 1 Cor. 11:23 (which Paul says he knows through revelation). All three are dealt with at various points in the book.

Within that context, my earlier statement stands. My chapter 9 statement, which you flagrantly misrepresented, makes the same kind of point, only in a narrower sub-class of descriptions of the Son which never identify that Son with the man we know of from the Gospels. The void in this sub-class is particularly blatant, since such passages involve descriptions of the Son and his (exclusively mythological) roles, with no identification of this cosmic Son with an earthly incarnation, no mention of a life on earth, let alone the character portrayed in the Gospels.

In regard to my ch. 9 statement, you even further misrepresented me. You made it sound as though I was claiming that the epistles never contain a “hint” of an historical Jesus, period; i.e., nothing is ever said that could convey the idea of a human being, even if that human being was never located in a time or place in history, or identified as the character we know from the Gospels. That would be nonsense, since we have all along been debating the meaning that should be attached to “of the seed of David” or “born of woman” and the like. I have never said, and never would, that such phrases contain no “hint” of an historical individual. The question is, is that the only way they can be taken, given the contexts of such passages, and the wider context of a void on an HJ in the non-Gospel record.

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30 thoughts on “Response to McGrath’s review of Doherty’s chapter 9”

  1. Neil, might be good if you take an article, and explain exactly what “external controls” are. You mention them regularly, but I do not think I have ever heard you explain exactly what they are, and why they are so important.

    Cheers!

    1. Maybe, though when I finally completed my previous post about history (it had been sitting as a draft in my “dashboard” for quite some time) I found it very difficult — because I have addressed it so often in much older posts it is painful for me to have to spell it out all over again. It might be easier if I organize and index some of those older posts for quick reference to some of the arguments. (I use the term just as Schweitzer himself used it. Maybe it is spelled out in one of my oldest posts where I discuss and quote Schweitzer much more extensively.)

      1. Perhaps a FAQ is in order, or a list of definitions.

        Part of the problem in getting through to McGrath and his disciples is a lack of common understanding of basic terms. So what do the following terms mean and how do they relate to Christian origins?

        Skepticism (or scepticism). Too many times people use the term “healthy skepticism” in opposition to “unwarranted skepticism” or “hyper-skepticism.” Such usage betrays an ignorance of historical method.

        Primary evidence. Many NT scholars seem to think it just means “earliest evidence.” It does not.

        External control. How many times have you heard the following straw man argument? “Of course a person like Jesus isn’t going to leave behind the same kind of evidence that an emperor would. Only an idiot would think that. So we have to deal with the evidence at hand.” First of all, I don’t know anyone who thinks Jesus should have left behind coins, books, funeral masks, statues, or temples dressed in marble. The point is not that he shouldn’t have left them behind, but that he didn’t, for whatever reason. However, just because we don’t have external controls and primary evidence doesn’t mean we have the right to promote the existing poor evidence to primary status.

        Historical fact. OK, you went over this one in a prior post. Even from historians like Kagan who profess a naive trust of ancient texts (innocent until proven guilty), we don’t see absolute declarations of bedrock fact with concomitant damnation of anyone who disagrees. In one breath NT scholars will point out that history is a matter of probability; in the next they’ll assert that the historicity of, say, the Baptism is 100% undeniably true, and scoff at anyone who thinks otherwise.

          1. It reminds me of the dysfunctional state of political discourse in my country. Just what do people mean by “liberty” or “justice”? For that matter, what does “terrorism” mean? As Chomsky has pointed out, US administrations are loath to define it, lest their own behavior be called into question.

            But getting back to history vs. NT studies, should we be surprised at their bizarre conclusions when some “independent scholars” don’t understand foundational terms and can’t apply basic logic?

            Neil: “…but he point blank refuses.”

            At first I thought he had some kind of mild attention deficit disorder, but now I’m suspecting he just ignores some questions as a matter of policy. Who knows? It reminds me of when you argue with a Creationist, and it seems as though you’re getting through to him, but then later on he says, “If we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” [facepalm]

            Is it selective amnesia? I mean, you’ve gone on and on about evidence and skepticism with extreme detail, but people still say things like, “I guess you don’t believe in anything,” or “If you don’t accept the evidence for Jesus, then Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great will vanish from the pages of history.”

            Is it a game? Or is it pathological?

  2. “Thus, we are left with an entire corpus of early Christian correspondence which gives us no indication that the divine Christ these writers look to for salvation is to be identified with the man Jesus of Nazareth whom the Gospels place in the early 1st century – or, indeed, with any man in their recent past” (p.19).

    That’s the argument that convinces me that the historicists have a lot of work to do to make their case. Merely acknowledging that it is “puzzling” isn’t enough.

        1. I think we are recollecting his review of the second chapter: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2011/05/chapter-2-of-earl-dohertys-jesus.html where he says it is curious that the epistles quote scriptures and not the actual words of Jesus:

          In chapter 2, however, Doherty turns his attention to something that ought genuinely to puzzle modern readers of the New Testament epistles. Why do we have so many quotations from the Jewish Scriptures which are attributed to that source, but few if any quotations of teaching of Jesus that are clearly and explicitly attributed to him?

          While this is a genuine puzzle, and if it has never puzzled you it should, . . . .

          In the same review he wrote

          . . . . the author is simply trying out a different way of reading certain New Testament texts. In some instances it may seem plausible, and in others severely problematic, but in none did it naturally seem to arise from or be required by the available evidence.

          I wondered what he meant by “other evidence”. It subsequently seems clear he means passages in the epistles themselves that he dogmatically insists can only have one possible set of interpretations concerning both their authenticity and meaning.

  3. From the Jesus Puzzle site, “The power of the Logos could, however, be embodied in humans, and thus Philo portrayed Moses as having been the most perfect receptacle of God’s Logos in human history. Moses is the closest Philo came to ‘incarnating’ his Logos, and this gave him his own brand of ‘divine’ hero. Philo made Moses the prime human mediator between God and the world, the one who had received God’s wisdom and revealed it to humanity through the Jewish scriptures.” I think Paul saw Jesus in the Moses role. This eliminates the need to speculate on other Jews wanting to turn the Logos into a another god and then trying to figure out why people thought this god was a preacher from first century Galilee.

    1. No one speculates on “other Jews wanting to turn the Logos into another god” — that’s what Philo himself did. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/the-second-god-among-ancient-jewish-philosophers-and-commoners/

      If you look carefully, though, you will notice there is a difference between the earthly stories and settings of Moses in Philo and the Old Testament and the celestial accounts of Jesus Christ in Paul.

      There is no mystery about why the gospel narratives of a human Jesus emerged. I’ve covered that many times here and Doherty and others also demonstrate that it is a much more reasonable proposition than that Jews should turn a crucified criminal into a god.

      1. Your quote from Doherty seems to count Philo out of the group wanting to turn the logos into another since he says, “A strong monotheist like Philo … stopped short of making his Son and Logos a personal divine being…. But other Jews did not feel the same rigid restrictions toward God, and could envision their Son as a personal entity beside God in heaven.” Is Doherty mistaken about Philo’s commitment to monotheism, or have I misunderstood? If so, could you explain what Doherty really means? The article you linked to only implicates Philo is this belief. Did I miss where Philo says other Jews held this belief?

        1. You have missed Doherty’s point. Note from both the part you quote and the larger context that Doherty is talking about “the impulse of the age” being to bring God closer to the world, to make him more “personal” — “more accessible on a human level”.

          When Philo spoke of a “second god” he was not speaking of a personal deity. He was speaking of the relation of the Logos to God. The Logos is a kind of emanation or self-contained image of God. The personal touch came from the Logos entering into Moses and relating to Israel through Moses. Philo’s works on online.

          We can understand Philo was influential, or at least expressed ideas that were widespread (he is not renowned as a great original thinker), by their resonances in both the epistles and Gospel of John, and the fact that so many of his writings were preserved.

          1. I didn’t miss his point, it isn’t my purpose to address that. Personal saviors were common in the Hellenistic world, no dispute there.

            Your second paragraph seems to contradict “No one speculates on “other Jews wanting to turn the Logos into another god” — that’s what Philo himself did” I agree, he wasn’t making another god the Logos is ” a kind of emanation or self-contained image of God”. As far as Philo’s influence, we know he was popular in Alexandria but the epistles, Gospel of John, and the preservation of Philo’s writings were all done by Christians. So we know he was influential on Christians, but we don’t know how wide spread beyond them. And it isn’t until the Gospel of John, a group that from all appearances is breaking communion with contemporary Jews, that Jesus is explicitly identified as a God. So while it is certainly possible that “other Jews did not feel the same rigid restrictions toward God, and could envision their Son as a personal entity beside God in heaven”, there is no evidence of it until decades after Christianity is established and is established in Greek communities.

            1. If you did not miss the point then I do not understand your original question. If you really want to know what Doherty thinks or what I mean then why not ask a “real scholar” who is reviewing Doherty and understands my mind and on whose blog you regularly scoff at how I always contradict myself and haven’t a clue.

            2. MIKE WILSON
              And it isn’t until the Gospel of John, a group that from all appearances is breaking communion with contemporary Jews, that Jesus is explicitly identified as a God.

              CARR
              1 Corinthians 8
              For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

              ‘…Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ How exactly do you help to create all things without being at least a little bit supernatural?

              HEBREWS 1
              In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word

              I’m sure Mike will be along soon to reassure us that early Christians did not think Jesus was a god, merely the radiance of God’s glory and the person through whom God made the universe.

              But not a god himself. Jesus was only the sustainer of the universe – something a long way short of being a god.

              1. “‘…Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ How exactly do you help to create all things without being at least a little bit supernatural?”

                By your reasoning here, everything “a little bit supernatural” is a god. I don’t doubt you on this, but we are left with the conundrum of how religions that believe in demons, angels, ghost, fairies and genies can still claim to be monotheist. They do it by narrowing their definition of God. Thus Muhammad could claim to get a revelation from an angel and still say God is one. The angel is supernatural being but still less than God, even if it moves all the cosmos.

                “I’m sure Mike will be along soon to reassure us that early Christians did not think Jesus was a god, merely the radiance of God’s glory and the person through whom God made the universe.

                But not a god himself. Jesus was only the sustainer of the universe – something a long way short of being a god.”

                Yes, exactly. You’re catching on. The radiance of God’s glory isn’t God any more than your face is you. And sustain and creating the universe is a long way short off being a God. God can make a Christ. A Christ cannot make a God.

              2. Mike engages in playing with words to avoid the obvious conclusion that early Christians thought of Jesus as a god.

                No, Jesus wasn’t a god. He was just the radiance of God’s glory, and just helped create the universe.

                Meanwhile Neil uses English words, and so baffles Mike ‘But other Jews did not feel the same rigid restrictions toward God, and could envision their Son as a personal entity beside God in heaven’

                I have no idea why Mike is baffled by the concept of idea of a ‘personal entity beside God in heaven’.

                I would explain it to him, but I really can’t be bothered.He claims ‘there is no evidence of it’, and this is somebody who claims Christians thought of Jesus as God’s radiance.

              3. I happen to agree with you Steven(early Christians thought of Jesus as a god), the issue though is Paul would probably disagree with you. It is a bit like the accusation from Protestants that Catholics worship Mary, mother of Jesus as a god. The Protestants will point to the prayers, the belief that she can influence God, and the notion that her suffering co-redeemed humanity. But catholics are adamant that they don’t think she is a god or part of the Trinity. When trying to understand early Christian beliefs we have to understand how they viewed their ideas, not how we would interpret them.

              4. Mike: “we have to understand how they viewed their ideas, not how we would interpret them.”

                Neil: Yes, exactly. You’re catching on. Which is why we cannot say something like: “The radiance of God’s glory isn’t God any more than your face is you. And sustain and creating the universe is a long way short off being a God. God can make a Christ. A Christ cannot make a God.” That is how YOU interpret the notion of god or what is called god. Much has been written to show that “the glory” of god was also thought of as god. Sometimes angels are equated with god in the texts we read (e.g. Jacob on the angel he wrestled.) We have to understand how they viewed their ideas, not how we would interpret them.

              5. Neil, what evidence do you have that Jews of time of Paul believed they were a polytheistic religion? If they were not polytheist, then they thought as I described them. The last vestiges of polytheistic Yawhism are evidenced long before Jesus. Please find where a first century Jew says they worship a god other than God. I think you are making the error of second guessing a groups religious claim based on your own definitions of the practice, not theirs. If Jews of the period consistently profess monotheistic ideology as their creed, then we must interpret their beliefs as being understood to be monotheistic by them, even if Steven, you, M. Baker, or me think otherwise.

  4. Mike Wilson, so just like the fundies who come here to convert, you start out with the most politely disarming comment or query but it’s only a short time before your arrogance shows. What is it about the topic under discussion that requires you to jettison civility? Does your scholarly reputation hang on the rights or wrongs of the question?

    “Polytheism” is a relatively modern western concept and your attempt to impose a western dichotomy between polytheism and monotheism upon “the Judaism” (whatever that was) of the Second Temple period is imposing a modern thought system on the time in question. It is NOT working through understanding the religious concepts according to the concepts of the time. What scholarly works have you read on the topic and upon which you are basing your polytheistice-monotheistic dichotomy? And upon what scholarly works do you arrive at the understanding that you can speak of “Jews of the period consistently professing monotheistic ideology as their creed”? And on what grounds do you impute modern either-or dichotomies to the people(s) in question? Or are you just trying to work out things by using your western mind alone? And what system do you use to differentiate post 70 rabbinic ideas from pre 70 “Judaism”?

    I suggest you even read McGrath’s book on “monotheism” and get a little broader idea of what “the Jews” (as if they are a unity) understood about the meaning of “god”. Even he is hung up on the western term of “monotheism” (and struggling with definitions of the word) at least he contains enough information to alert readers to some of the complexities of the question. If you want to use the word “monotheism” then at least use the word to refer to the fulll complex of understandings that were relevant to the time and peoples we are discussing.

    You are welcome to ask questions civilly in order to understand other points of views of those who may have read something different from what you have, and to express disagreement with reasoned argument and evidence. You are also free to dismiss Margaret Barker — a scholar who is dedicated to exploring what the ideas of ‘one god’ etc meant to the Second Temple Jews — but if you do so without having read her works and without a reasoned critique then I will consider your posts trolling once again as I did last time you appeared here.

    1. Mike Wilson, in addition to rejecting the research into the theological concepts prevalent in Second Temple Judaism by Margaret Barker, I gather you also disimss the arguments of Alan Segal who likewise assessed the strong probability that there were other Jews in Philo’s day who spoke of their “second God” without the same qualifications and sensitivities apparently troubling him. What scholarly arguments persuaded you that neither of these scholars knew what they were talking about?

      1. The problem people like McGrath are having with Monotheism is they have developed a modern understanding of it and are imposing it on the past. Of course in the past they did not have the term monotheism. They thought of themselves as following the true God and everyone else was an idolater. Our word monotheism was coined to describe the religion of the Abrahamic faiths and as far as Judaism is concerned, we have the Shema, explicit denials of other gods, and a number of other cues that Jews of the first century did not think anything else was properly God. Even Philo believes this, “Let us, therefore, fix deeply in ourselves this first commandment as the most sacred of all commandments, to think that there is but one God, the most highest, and to honour him alone; and let not the polytheistical (the idea that gods are many) doctrine ever even touch the ears of any man who is accustomed to seek for the truth, with purity and sincerity of heart;” from Philo, the Decalogue, 65.

        For a scholarly discussion of Segal and Barker, I submit L.W. Hurtado’s “First Century Jewish Monotheism” His work is supported by all I have seen of Jewish writing of the period, earlier works, and later developments of Judaism. I cannot say the same for Barker and Segal. If you doubt this is true, provide an example that would support the idea that there were Jews in the first century who disagreed with the above statement from Philo. The two are only second guessing the stated commitments of the first century Jews with their own modern definition of what Worshiping only the one God should entail. The facts are that first century Judaism was capable of conceiving of a host of beings that to outsiders would be classed as gods, but to the Jews who imagined them, this was not the case at all, they did not think of them as beings in the same class as god. Whatever grief this may have caused more conservative elements like the Sadducees; this does not seem to be strong enough to create a break in the community. Furthermore, the elevated language Paul uses of Jesus does not seem to be the controversial part of his message to the Jews he speaks of, who, as I’ve said earlier, were likely “strong monotheist like Philo”. The controversy was that he preached that the law was not binding on the community, and that a crucified fool could be messiah. That the messiah could be “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” doesn’t raise eyebrows. It is only later and possibly in response to later Christianity that Judaism begins to find these exalted angels and spirits unacceptable.

        Paul can speak of Jesus in this way as Philo can speak of Moses like this,

        “Has he not also enjoyed an even greater communion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have entered into the darkness where God was; that is to say, into the invisible, and shapeless, and incorporeal world, the essence, which is the model of all existing things, where he beheld things invisible to mortal nature; for, having brought himself and his own life into the middle, as an excellently wrought picture, he established himself as a most beautiful and Godlike work, to be a model for all those who were inclined to imitate him. (159) And happy are they who have been able to take, or have even diligently laboured to take, a faithful copy of this excellence in their own souls; for let the mind, above all other parts, take the perfect appearance of virtue, and if that cannot be, at all events let it feel an unhesitating and unvarying desire to acquire that appearance;”

        From Philo’s Moses to Paul’s Christ is scarcely a stone’s throw.

        1. MIKE
          ‘ That the messiah could be “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” doesn’t raise eyebrows. ‘

          CARR
          Mike seems to suffer from parallelomania ,claiming it is a stone’s throw from Philo’s Moses to Paul claiming a recently crucified criminal was the agent through whom God created the world.

          It did not raise any eyebrows among Jews that a human being was being claimed to be the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word?

          Hebrews ‘,,,,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.’
          Where does Philo claim Moses helped to create the world?

          ‘he established himself as a most beautiful and Godlike work,’. Are you claiming that because Philo held that human beings were created in God’s image (Moses being especially so) that this meant that Hebrews claiming someone was the exact representation of God’s being, was not calling him divine?

          What point is Mike trying to argue here? That Jews were not fazed by claiming a recent person was greater than Moses? The way Muslims would not be fazed by somebody saying Osama bin Laden was greater than Muhammad? Or is he arguing that Jews were not fazed by somebody claiming a recently crucified criminal was the agent through whom God created the world?

          Apparently, you could easily say Jesus helped to create the world and was the exact representation of God’s being without other Jews being bothered, but you could not call him the Messiah.

          MIKE
          The facts are that first century Judaism was capable of conceiving of a host of beings that to outsiders would be classed as gods, but to the Jews who imagined them, this was not the case at all, they did not think of them as beings in the same class as god.

          CARR
          If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is a duck, no matter how many people claim there is only one True Donald Duck.

          1. “If it looks like a duck, talks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is a duck, no matter how many people claim there is only one True Donald Duck.”

            And this is why you miss the point of of what the ancients are trying to communicate because you are only interested in imposing your views on them.

  5. Mike, can you explain why your comment is so different from the way other posts of yours read? But when “you” say that McGrath, Barker and Segal are “imposing a modern understanding” on the past then you are telling me you are just making up stuff and have not read them at all. When you read the works of the authors you “just know” Hurtado “rebuts” so well then let’s have a serious discussion. I am not interested in exhanges with someone who only pretends he knows what he’s talking about.

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/israels-second-god-1-the-son-of-god/
    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/08/05/israels-second-god-2-evidence-of-the-exile/
    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/israels-second-god-ch-2-contd/
    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/who-the-el-was-god-margaret-barkers-the-great-angel-2/
    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/the-second-god-among-ancient-jewish-philosophers-and-commoners/

    E. P. Sanders et al on the similarity between pagan and Jewish concepts:

    Of course, ‘one/only god’ formulae can be found in ‘pagan’ sources of the Graeco-Roman period as well, as Erik Peterson has shown (Heis Theos: Epigraphische, formgeschichtliche und religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen [FRLANT, 24; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1926]). Note also Morton Smith, ‘The Common Theology of the Ancient Near East’, JBL 71 (1952), pp. 135- 47. But in pagan religious practice, these formulae were fully compatible with the recognition and worship of all the gods, either as all valid manifestations of one common divine essence or as valid second-order gods under a high (often unknow able) god. 24. E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66 CE (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), esp. pp. 241-51; . . . [Hurtado!]

    Alan Segal, Two Powers, p. 163, bases his argument for the Christian conception of Jesus as God upon the Jewish thought preceding it, and Hurtado in your article agrees with Segal’s conclusion (though he does not address Segal’s grounds for his argument there):

    It takes but a small leap of the the imagination, based on Philo’s discussion of those “incapable of forming any conception of God whatsoever without a body” to suspect that there were others in Philo’s day who spoke of a “second god,” but who were not as careful as Philo in defining the limits of the term.

    Hurtado nowhere disputes Segal’s conclusion that Philo is evidence for other Jews of his own day acknowledging a second god, and that this contributed to the ease with which Christianity’s particular beliefs about Jesus emerged. Nor does Hurtado address the arguments of Barker but resorts to a kind of ad hominem slur against her motives. He does concede, however, that her argument is far-reaching in its coverage of the evidence, yet somehow manages through a logic I don’t quite follow that this means her case is weakened!

    1. temper, temper! It’s affecting your writing. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to address your post on the second god in their entirety, but if there are some arguments you find especially compelling, I would be happy to give an opinion. I’m afraid if i picked a selection myself I would only be accused of going for low hanging fruit.

    2. Neil: I am not interested in exhanges with someone who only pretends he knows what he’s talking about.

      Tim: I second the motion.

      Neil: Nor does Hurtado address the arguments of Barker but resorts to a kind of ad hominem slur against her motives.

      Tim: I haven’t read much by Hurtado. Now I can see I needn’t bother.

      1. Tim, since you haven’t read Hurtado, wouldn’t that put you in the category of “someone who only pretends he knows what he’s talking about”. Since I got in that bracket apparently for not writing a detailed assessment of the arguments for Jewish Polytheism in the first century for a blog post.

        On Neil’s dislike of Hurtado’s piece, it is hard to tell from his post if he is talking about the article I mentioned or another. I didn’t notice a “ad hominem slur against her motives” his agreement with Segal regarded two Jewish heresies attacked in rabbinic literature that Segal identifies as Jewish-Christianity and Jewish Gnosticism (First-century Jewish Monotheism, p.23). These are too late to represent first century thought and since the information come from the heresy hunters, it is not clear that the heretics thought of themselves as worshiping another God.

        If Neil believes that Barker or Segal has a good argument or piece of evidence for Jews acknowledging a second god, I would like him to present it. I didn’t find one in his post on the subject here he linked to above, and no other presentation of their material has produced one either. I know some are persuaded, but most aren’t and I don’t imagine this is based solely on their not reading these works. If Neil doesn’t find it useful to continue discussion of the subject until i have these books in my hand, thats his business, but I haven’t been given a reason to suspect that this would really be useful. this reminds me of Dohety’s insistence that despite non of the arguments he has presented here or at McGrath’s site being persuasive, that some how the ones left un discussed in the book would. If they are such great arguments, he should discuss them, if there is something in Barker or Segal’s book that would demonstrate the likelihood that there were these polytheistic Jews in the first century present them. If he is as familiar with the works as he claims that shouldn’t be hard if such arguments are there.

        If he doesn’t feel like presenting them anymore than I feel like doing a full article on The Second God and the Great Angel, then I will simply leave it that Steven feels their are works that prove his postion but I and many other scholars disagree.

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