Revised and updated 3 hours after the original posting.
Both the letters of Paul and the narrative in the Gospels speak of Jesus crucified. Jesus’ death is significant. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus’ blood and Paul refers often to his blood. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke in particular stress his birth from a woman and we find a passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians saying Jesus was born of a woman. The Synoptic Gospels indicate Jesus was descended from David and in Paul’s letter to the Romans we likewise read Jesus was connected with David.
The contexts are quite different, of course. The Gospels are portraying a past narrative of an earthly mission of Jesus and Paul is addressing Jesus’ saving power in the “here and now and soon to be”.
And all of those references to Jesus’ crucifixion, blood, Davidic relationship, flesh, etc are derived from the same source. They are all speaking about the same thing.
They are taken from the same source as the account in all four Gospels of the cleansing of the Temple, the baptism by John, the failure of the disciples, the stories of healing, etc. All of these theological cum narrative plot constructs in the Gospels. They are all theological constructs.
Burton Mack and Paula Fredriksen, for example, recognize this in particular in the case of the “cleansing of the Temple”. I won’t quote them again here because I have already written of their arguments with full quotations more than once in previous posts. And mainly because right now I don’t have the time. But the point is that they recognize that the simplest explanation for this incident is that it was created from OT scriptures (midrash, if you like, to use a word we find in Dale C. Allison Jr. in relation to other gospel stories, though not in this specific context) in order to fulfill a plot function.
It is all just “too neat” as a plot device to be realistically thought of as a historical memory.
Mack and others recognize the same theological and narrative-plot function that the baptism of Jesus served in Mark’s Gospel, too. Unfortunately Fredriksen is less consistent and forgets the narrative-plot device argument when it does not suit her hypothesis for historical constructions. For example, despite all the indicators in the Gospels that the failure of the disciples is also based on OT scriptures and ever-so-neatly fills a narrative plot function, she does accept this event as historical.
And in Paul? Is there a single reference to Jesus in the epistles that does not serve to convey a theological message? How many other historical executions do we read about where a historian will dwell so much on the victim shedding “blood”?
No, “blood” is a theological signifier to Paul. It is not a historical event in the sense that Caesar’s assassination was an historical event. It has no focal historical moment in time and place. It is as much a theological construct as the Stoic’s Logos was a philosophical construct.
The same with Jesus’ Davidic connection. That is entirely a theological signifier in both the Gospels and Paul.
Sometimes one reads that even the name “Jesus” is too quotidian to be considered a name of a deity. But even a Classical scholar (John Moles) can see the ironical and theologically charged nature of the name Jesus and its aptness for a deity who also appears in the flesh as a healer and who rises from the dead.
Now of course none of the above excludes the possibility that Jesus was also historical. Of course not. And that’s not what I have ever argued. What I do argue is that the simplest explanation for the above data about Jesus — whether in Paul or in the Gospels — is that it is all a theological construct. In the case of the Gospels there is the additional factor of narrative plot devices.
That is the simplest explanation.
But that explanation could be invalidated if we were to find indisputable evidence — external to the theological literature — that the same persons and events were historical. If we had such evidence then the hypothesis of an exclusively theological origin would be invalidated.
We can read a historian like Herodotus and see that he has both a “nationalistic” (or “Hellenistic ethnic”) and “theological” bias and motive for his history of the Persian war. He is writing a drama of hubris and fall, of first the Persians and then the Greeks. He is “preaching” the over-riding power of the will of Apollo over the affairs of humankind. But we have external — independent — testimony of the same war that does not share these same dramatic and “theological” interests of Herodotus. We know Herodotus’s narrative of the Persian war is more than a theological drama.
We also have the little question of genre — a potential key to understanding the intent of the author. And we have details of provenance. We have some idea who was writing Histories and when and where and why and for whom.
We have no comparable evidence to assure us of the historicity of Jesus.
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