This is my take on one part of Earl Doherty’s argument that when Paul spoke of “rulers of this age” ignorantly crucifying Christ he was not suggesting that the spirit powers were working through earthly potentates to do their will. Dr McGrath believes that Doherty is contradicting himself here because Doherty also notes that it was commonly believed by the ancients that “heavenly events determine earthly realities.”
Unfortunately I do realize that nothing I can say will change Dr McGrath’s mind at all in relation to his belief that Doherty’s argument is “a self-contradictory mess” since he made it very plain [http://disq.us/34ndi9 discussion and comments appear to have been deleted: Neil Godfrey, 22nd July 2019] that “no one with sense will believe” Doherty and that any attempt of mine to explain it will at best be “entertaining”. He does not ask whether or not Doherty’s argument is self-contradictory so any attempt to point out that it is not will not be accepted by him. (Further, since McGrath has online access to Doherty online it is to be noted that he has not chosen to raise this with Doherty himself.)
When I responded that I would be happy to explain it and that the perception of a contradiction was partly the consequence of continuing to read Gospel presuppositions into Paul, McGrath responded [http://disq.us/34o3yo discussion and comments appear to have been deleted: Neil Godfrey, 22nd July 2019] that he believed I would be objecting to the “methods [he shares] with those who work in the discipline of history”. (I have publicized theologians’ ground-breaking contributions to the field of history at NT scholars are pioneers and contrasted the way nonbiblical historians handle mythical and legendary sources at Can Hobsbawm recover the historical Robin Hood?)
I can’t argue with a mind closed. So this is not for McGrath’s benefit, but for any innocent but curious bystander.
Here is McGrath’s problem with what Doherty writes:
@neilgodfrey:disqus, would you care to explain one of the self-contradictory elements in this part of Doherty’s book? He writes on p. 104 of “that most fundamental of ancient concepts outlines earlier: the idea that the earth was the mirror image of heaven, the product proceeding from the archetype, the visible material counterpart to the genuine spiritual reality above. Heavenly events determined earthly realities.” Yet on p.106 he writes “The suggestion that since earthly rulers are considered to be controlled by heavenly ones the latter are seen as operating “through” the former is simply reading the idea into the text.” Isn’t that “reading into” the text the very idea that Doherty said we should just a couple of pages earlier: “Heavenly events determined earthly realities”? Why, having acknowledged that this was a “most fundamental of ancient concepts” does Doherty object that Paul “never feels compelled to explain what Origen is bending over backwards to do: how did the demons effect their crucifixion of the Lord of glory if he was crucified on earth? Indeed, he shows no sign of any such difficulty, no sense of what should have been a natural question in his readers’ minds: if the Roman governor Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross on the mount of Calvary at the instigation of the Jewish religious leaders, how could demons be declared to be responsible?” (p.108).
This part of chapter 10 is a self-contradictory mess, and I don’t think my treatment of it was as harsh as it could have been, as it perhaps deserved to be. Perhaps you would like to offer your own perspective on how Doherty makes perfect sense, and it is my own unwillingness to be open to the possibility of his genius that is the real problem? No one with any sense will believe it, but your attempts to argue that are usually entertaining.
McGrath’s problem unfortunately illustrates the point Doherty himself makes about what is perhaps the biggest obstacle to the acceptance of his mythicist idea: that the ancient thought world is so alien to our own understanding. McGrath has an additional problem in that he habitually responds to both Doherty’s arguments, and mine, by so often recasting them as false dichotomies.
Doherty’s explanation of what some scholars call “paradigmatic parallelism” between the heavenly and earthly worlds is nothing unusual. McGrath himself has said that Doherty is telling us nothing new in his explanations of this ancient understanding. So in the Similitudes of Enoch there is a Righteous One in heaven who, at the time he comes to judge, will exalt all his human counterparts (righteous ones) on earth by raising them up to heaven to join him; this is similar to the Book of Daniel’s Son of Man’s role as the paradigm of the righteous holy ones on earth who are destined to take the kingdom. There is a temple and priesthood in heaven as there is on earth. There are spirits who rule nations just as those spirit rulers have their human counterpart kings. Compare the letters to the churches in Revelation. These are addressed to the angelic rulers of the churches who are mirrored by the human bishops of the same churches. In the Ascension of Isaiah we read of all the demons in the first heaven fighting, quarreling, lying, etc, and they are a “mirror” of what life on earth is like.
But this cosmic order of things does imply that those heavenly beings are directly leading humans by their noses to follow their every step and echo their every word. That is an extreme extrapolation for which there is no evidence at all in ancient thought. After all, note that “paradigmatic parallel” model can also include a single spirit being in heaven being the counterpart of many humans on earth, so such a notion would be inconceivable to even the ancient mind, I suspect.
What the heavenly paradigm model implies is that rulers such as Pilate, Herod, the High Priests, etc are subject to acting in the same evil ways as the evil spirits above. It is in this sense that heavenly events determine earthly realities.
There are also special moments when those spirit powers, such as the rulers of Greece and Persia, “stir up” their earthly counterparts to go to war, as we read in the Book of Daniel. But as explained above, the heavenly paradigm did not mean that every act of persons on earth was directly inspired by a heavenly counterpart.
So the question becomes — at least for those who acknowledge that Paul’s “rulers of this age” refers to angelic powers (argued elsewhere) — whether Paul meant to imply that those spirits acted through humans by inspiring them to kill Jesus or whether they themselves crucified Jesus.
Either is a quite reasonable and valid explanation within the context of the ancient belief in paradigmatic parallelism between heaven and earth. (Indeed, Doherty later argues that the latter is really the best explanation within the paradigmatic model for quite separate reasons from those discussed here in relation to 1 Corinthians 2:6-8. I’ll touch on that at the end of this post.)
We have a number of reasons for believing that Paul meant that the heavenly rulers themselves crucified Christ on the following grounds:
- the idea that such events happened in the heavens is consistent with what we know of the ancients’ mythical understanding of the cosmos — the same sorts of things and acts took place above as below;
- Paul elsewhere insists that earthly rulers (despite their evil ways in other respects) protect the righteous on earth and that the righteous having nothing to fear from them;
- Paul gives no indication of any earthly setting or actants in Christ’s crucifixion;
- Paul speaks of Christ being in the likeness of human flesh, not actually coming down to be crucified in real human flesh;
- Christ’s crucifixion in other NT epistles is portrayed as a conquest by/of demon powers;
- the Gospels do not appear to know anything about those crucifying Christ being made to do so by heavenly counterparts, and the demons in the Gospels are said to have known exactly who Jesus was anyway, so could not have crucified him ignorantly as per Paul;
- later Christian authors before Origen (e.g. Ignatius, Marcion, Tertullian) do not interpret Paul as meaning that heavenly beings inspired their earthly counterparts;
- the first time we find the idea of the heavenly stirring up the earthly actors is with Origen who is struggling to reconcile opposing concepts. The modern interpretation of Paul that the spirits worked through the humans is traced back to Origen and not to Paul.
There may be others that slip my mind at the moment.
I said there is another reason that Doherty has for resisting the devil-made-the-humans-do-it-for-them interpretation.
If we think about the way the ancients understood the heavenly paradigm related to the earthly as we find it in 1 Enoch and the Book of Daniel, for example, it follows that if the Saviour did actually come down to the earth to be crucified then there would be no heavenly paradigm at all.
With the paradigmatic model, just as the Son of Man in Daniel comes to the Ancient of Days to take the throne to rule as a paradigm of what will happen to the saints below, so the Saviour Jesus would suffer and be raised again as a paradigm of what will happen to those who are Christ’s below. Those who are “in Christ” below identify with the heavenly act through baptism, and are thus guaranteed their salvation by being raised with Christ, too.
Doherty shows that this particular model — the death of Jesus as a heavenly paradigm on behalf of believers below (who in other places we learn must mystically identify with this act at baptism or even undergo a physical martyrdom) — is best spelled out in the Book of Hebrews.
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