Does anti-supernaturalism imply anti-Christian hostility?

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by Neil Godfrey

Of course not. This is the common — non-rational — response of some Christians when I protest that I have no time for entertaining any possibility (even theoretical) of the miraculous in historical studies.

Being committed to naturalist explanations does not mean that one is “anti-Christian” in the sense of harbouring some sort of anti-social bias or hostile agenda against Christianity.

As a naturalist and atheist Christianity or any other religious belief simply never enters my consciousness as a framework for interpretation when I am exploring historical questions. That is not hostility against Christianity. That is not some sort of crusading vendetta to attack Christianity. Christianity or any other religion simply never rises above the horizon of consideration, pro or con.

Yes I certainly do argue against faith and religion with selected audiences who are receptive to or interested in my arguments. I admire Charles Darwin for the respect he showed for the feelings of his devout wife. I have people close to me who are deeply attached to religious faith and I have no desire whatever to hurt them if I can help it.

Besides, I am more interested in exploring historical questions of Christian origins and I would like to try to avoid as much as possible giving anyone reason to reject my arguments on the grounds that they emanate from some sort of hostile anti-Christian bias. As it is there are people who do attack my views for that very reason. But they have no evidential basis to make those claims. Such claims are gratuitous and bogus mind-reading.

Scholars with a Christian bias or a supernatural belief in Jesus being alive today belong in seminaries the same way mullahs belong in madāris. What concord hath Christ or Allah with the Rational Mind?

Anti-supernaturalism versus anti-rationalism in biblical studies

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by Neil Godfrey

I am expressing the impressions of an outsider, a layman, who has read more than an average layperson has read of biblical scholarly literature. One paradox that struck me very early on in my reading was something I would never dream of finding in any other reputable scholarly discipline.

There are biblical scholars who write entirely from a secular, rationalist, naturalist viewpoint. They appear to restrict their discussions to colleagues of a like-minded predisposition.

There are biblical scholars who include in their scholarly output expressions that lend some level of credence to the miraculous and divine intervention. That may take the form of anything from arguing outright for a miraculous event (as N. T. Wright does) to accepting the theoretical possibility or remote mathematical probability (e.g. Ehrman) of a miraculous event. The less mathematically or logically gifted among these simply say that they will allow for an “unknown” or “unexplained/inexplicable” event.

Then there are scholars who express no such sentiment themselves but nonetheless engage in serious scholarly discussion with those who do.

In what other discipline do either the second or third category of scholars exist? If they are known to exist, I would be interested to know also the scholarly impact such scholars have in their field.

Is not arguing for the mere possibility of the miraculous (even if at reduced probability ratios) in any serious post Enlightenment, rationalist area of study deserving of immediate censure? In other fields what room is there for a scholar whose hypotheses are stretched to include the possibility of the supernatural?

Why let the threat of “You have an anti-supernaturalistic bias” worry anyone? Of course it’s good to have an anti-supernaturalistic bias. That’s the bias that got us out of the Dark Ages or superstition and ignorance!

How can any serious rationalist flirt with probabilities (theoretical or mathematical) of miracles? The probability of a resurrection may be set at so many billion to one. Why? Why play the supernaturalists’ game? There is no more probability of a resurrection than there is of Hubble finding a teacup and saucer orbiting Saturn or of my mentally ill friend being possessed by a demon. Doctors may give a patient certain odds of recovery. They don’t (I hope) give odds that a client may have a supernatural cause of a disease.

There are certain things that sit outside the realm of probability. Probability only makes sense within the laws and experience of what is probable. Probability is ascertained by extrapolations from facts of experience. That excludes outright the probability that there really exists a pixie under a toadstool in your back yard.

But this nonsense is encouraged by scholars who accept the works of colleagues who peddle such pseudo-scholarly gobbledygook. Here is a pertinent few words from Niels Peter Lemche that I like. I have bolded some of the text. Fuller quotations and a link to their source can be found here.

Now days, biblical scholarship is dominated by American scholars, presenting a much more colorful picture. Historical-critical scholarship has no monopoly like it used to have in Europe; academic institutions may be – according to European standards – critical or conservative, but in contrast to the European tradition, these very different institutions will communicate, thus lending respectability also to the conservative position.

This definitely represents a danger to biblical scholarship as an academic discipline in the European tradition. Entertaining a dialogue with an opponent who has different goals from the ones of the critical scholar means the same as diluting one’s own position: in the universe of the critical scholar, there can be no other goal than the pursuit of scholarship – irrespective of where his investigations may lead him or her.

Can anyone truly be so naive as to think that a scholar who believes Jesus is alive today or who is prepared to accept the possibility of miracles in his or her heart (though poorly “hiding” behind statements like “something unknown” happened to explain the Easter experience) has the same ultimate goals as a secularist or naturalist “critical scholar”? Is the former ever seriously likely to question their fundamental assumptions or hypotheses if it means jettisoning completely all attachments to the supernatural?


Wonderful news, hopeful news (but would a story help?)

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by Neil Godfrey




It’s growing. It’s on the way to becoming what I wished it would become. I had thought that the tail-ending catch-up game in New York was a symptom of the accelerating irrelevance of the U.S. But it’s catapulted into the 15th October movement or the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Not just a demonstration but the beginnings of a movement? Hoping still.

The first sign of hope with the new century was in 2001 with the World Social Forum. That spawned many regional social forums and I was involved in the Brisbane one for a few years. The momentum diminished but networks were being formed and organizational and educative ideas were being shared.

About the same time, only months apart, the International Solidarity Movement was born with the specific agenda of direct action support for the Palestinians and this had a remarkable history since — attracting two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

2003 saw one of the most remarkable events in the history of democracy as grass-roots movements around the world coordinated to bring out millions in an effort to prevent a war from starting. It was clear to millions that leaders were lying and mainstream media was misinforming them about the threat posed by Iraq. The leaders and their communications channels were no longer able to “manufacture consent” for war as they had been so used to doing before. The powerless masses were capable of organizing globally and showing their strength by the millions. People who had never dreamt they would ever be a part of a street protest came out to be counted, seen and heard.

They failed to stop the war. But this was something totally new in history. Millions around the world coming out to attempt to stop a war before it started. It was a turning point. What the people were capable of doing and willing to do was now clear. What was needed was a catalyst, a cause to inspire with hope, a target or program that will sustain an ongoing will to change something significant.

What often sparks movements is a change in circumstances for the worse. Enter the GFC, the Global Financial Crisis. Add a little dose of being shown up by the more active and courageous peoples in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen fighting for liberties the west took for granted . . . then Greece, Spain, France. . . . — realizing they had to fight to avoid losing sight forever of realities and hopes they once had.

This is the legacy of networks and activist sharing of organizational and communication tactics and methods initiated with the World Social Forum then demonstrated and revitalized with the anti-war protests of 2003. Being an activist for social justice causes often feels like one is part of a lost cause, trying to keep a candle burning with only a few other like-minds in a world of suffocating hopelessness. But that’s what it’s always been like for the last two hundred years. It’s mostly a matter of preparing, never giving up, continuing to keep the flickering alive, until the next “right moment” comes that will fan it into an expanding flame.

If the Wall Street demonstrations really do grow into a movement it will be because clear, simple and concrete, very specific, communicable programs will rise to the top. The World Social Forum brought together dozens of grass-roots agendas. That was its strength and weakness. The 2003 event was so huge in part because of the singularity of its goal.

But another vital factor seems to be crystallizing out of the current movements. What is also needed is a new story, a new myth, to capture imaginations. A story is needed to explain the current situations or crises facing the world. (It’s not just a financial crisis. We also need to have a habitable planet. And other little issues like space-control and multiple means of mass destruction are not healthy assets, either.) The stories that served the late eighteenth, nineteenth centuries and early twentieth centuries are obsolete. They don’t work anymore. But some think they only need revitalizing and adapting. Something clear, sensible and dramatic needs to be found that can unite us in a common understanding of where we are, where we have been and the simple options before us.

Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence

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by Neil Godfrey

This post continues Leroy Andrew Huizenga’s argument that the Gospel of Matthew’s Jesus is modelled on Second Temple Jewish beliefs about Isaac being bound in order to become a sacrificial offering at the hand of his father Abraham (an episode known as the Akedah). Huizenga’s argument depends on their being much more to the Jewish understanding of this event than what we read today in Genesis 22. The first post looked at evidence we have from before the first century (the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jubilees) that

  1. Isaac was believed to have been a willing participant freely offering himself up as a sacrifice;
  2. this was believed to have occurred at Passover — indeed explains the institution of the Passover;
  3. this happened was said to have happened on Mount Zion
  4. God himself was thought to be the one who behind the scenes was offering him up as a sacrifice
  5. this event was understood to have had some form of saving or life-giving benefit.

This post looks at the evidence from the first century itself for the prevalence of such views of Isaac and the Akedah — the time acknowledged as the era when Christianity and the Gospels were coming into being.

Of particular significance is Huizenga’s point that the first-century evidence itself further points to these understandings being long embedded as part and parcel of Jewish culture. They were not recent innovations.

Moreover, the concise manner of presentation of these aspects in the latter three texts reveals their antiquity and pervasive cultural currency: recent innovations would require detailed presentation but longstanding legends need only the slightest mention for their evocation. Isaac’s willingness, for instance, functions as a resource, not a novelty, an explanans, not an explanation. (p. 67 of Reading the Bible Intertextually, chapter 5 The Matthean Jesus and Isaac)

Leaving aside Huizenga’s argument for a moment, this reminds me of the cryptic references in the Book of Genesis to the fallen angels procreating with human women before the flood. The passing remark presupposes a knowledge of what we read in the apocryphal literature and is thus one of several reasons to think of Genesis as being a late composition. Continue reading “Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence”


The Order of the New Testament Canon

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by Neil Godfrey

George A. Kennedy makes some interesting observations about the order of the New Testament books that probably many Christians have at some time thought about. I suppose when a professor of classics publishes the same it gives us an assurance that our senses have not failed us.

The canon of the New Testament was established by Councils of the Church in late antiquity. Whether consciously determined or not, the order assigned to the books is interesting, for it is consistent with conventions of rhetoric as taught in the schools.

  1. First come the Gospels, which proclaim the message;
  2. then the narrative of Acts, which describes its reception;
  3. then the epistles, which may be viewed as arguing out interpretation of the message;
  4. and finally the Apocalypse, as a dramatic epilogue.

(p. 97, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism, my formatting and numbering.)

It’s not quite true, of course. Acts can hardly be said to describe the reception of the message we read about in the Gospels, unless the message of the Gospels is confined to their final verses. And the epistles appear to be even less interested in arguing out the interpretation of anything we read in the Gospels. But the order of the books as bound in canonical black with gold edging does rhetorically convey the impression that it is quite true.

And then there is the order of the Gospels.

The order of the four Gospels probably reflects what the Church thought was the chronological order of their composition and is consistent with Eusebius’ reports on the subject. But it is also rhetorically effective in that

  1. Matthew, with his introductory genealogy, account of Jesus’ birth, and extended speeches, gives a comprehensive initial picture of Christianity and links it to the Old Testament;
  2. Mark, with his emphasis on what Jesus did, approximates a narration;
  3. Luke works out details and smoothes over problems to create a plausible whole;
  4. and John supplies a moving epilogue.

(p. 97 ditto)

Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

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by Neil Godfrey

'Akedah: Abraham Offering Isaac'
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If one reads the Genesis 22 account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac there is very little reason to think that it has very much to do with the details of the Gospel narrative about Jesus. And that’s the problem — it is too easy to read Genesis 22 as if the canonical text so familiar to us was all there was to read and know among Jewish readers of the Second Temple pre-Christian era.

Some scholars neglect the potential significance of Isaac for the Gospel of Matthew due to an anachronistic and often reflexive focus on the canonical forms of Old Testament texts. (p. 64, The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia, Leroy Andrew Huizenga, in Reading the Bible Intertextually)

Huizenga uses the analogy of the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopedia to explain. It has been customary to compare specific details of Gospel narratives with potentially corresponding texts in the Old Testament and decide on the basis of one to one correspondences of semantics whether there is a real relationship between the two. This is like consulting a dictionary to find a direct one-to-one theoretical explanation of a word. A better approach is to explore relationships through “an encyclopedia” that speaks of actual experiences in the way the words have been used and interpreted in cultural knowledge and traditions. In short, this means that

Scholars must ask how Old Testament texts were actually understood within Jewish culture when the New Testament documents were written and not assume that any “plain meaning” of our canonical Old Testament text was the common, obvious, undisputed first-century meaning. (p. 65)

So when one reads in Matthew what appears to be a verbal allusion to Genesis 22, it is valid to ask what that allusion meant to those whose understanding of Genesis was shrouded in other literary traditions and theological ideas of the time. It is not just about what we read in our canon. It is about what Jews of the day wrote and understood and acted upon in relation to their scriptures that is the key.

So what did the Jews make of the story of the binding of Isaac (the Akedah)? Continue reading “Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew”


Anti-intellectualism(?) in Jesus studies

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by Neil Godfrey

My last post looked at Bultmann’s insights into the synoptic portrayal of the baptism of Jesus. This post looks at some disturbing and depressing reasons why at least two modern scholars appear to have rejected Bultmann’s findings. Disturbing and depressing because their reasons have nothing to do with the detail of Bultmann’s arguments. Bultmann is rejected because he came to the “wrong conclusion” and so ideological or sociological reasons are brought in to explain his “wrong conclusion”. Bultmann’s “wrong conclusion” was that too much of the Gospel narrative about Jesus was explained as Hellenistic (Greek) in origin and failed to make Jesus “Jewish enough”; in fact he concluded the Gospels did not allow us to learn much about the “real Jesus” at all.

I don’t know the field well enough to generalize but two scholars (among several) do stand out from my readings for having made particularly — I don’t know if the word “anti-intellectual” is too strong — anti-intellectual(?) rejections of Bultmann’s arguments. I can understand various objections to form criticism myself, but these scholars appear to have dumped the whole bath into the mud-pit.

James Crossley of the University of Sheffield faults Bultmann for failing to open up the application of social sciences to biblical studies and thereby explore the social setting of Christian origins — specifically a Jewish social setting for Jesus.

Bultmann emphasized an existential hermeneutic with theological truth supposedly found in the seemingly transcendent Gospel of John. (p. 4 of Why Christianity Happened)

I address a possible sinister significance of that use of “existential” later.

Crossley avoids blaming Bultmann’s for any personal anti-semitism but he that does not stop him from associating his studies with anti-semitism: Continue reading “Anti-intellectualism(?) in Jesus studies”


The “Legend” of the Baptism of Jesus (Bultmann flashback)

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by Neil Godfrey

Posted 6pm. Updated 8:30 pm with note on Thompson’s argument that baptism is a reiteration of OT narratives

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Every so often scholars stumble over evidence that what they are reading in the Gospels is based not on historical events but on theological creativity but they never seem to mind. They nearly always pick themselves up, dust themselves off and look around declaring, “Didn’t hurt a bit” before continuing on their way as if nothing had ever happened.

Not so long ago I wrote a few posts on Bishop John Shelby’s Spong’s arguments that most of what we read in the Gospels is fictional midrash. (Even Dale C. Allison uses that “m” word to describe some of the same narratives in his Constructing Jesus — pp. 448, 451 —  so I guess scholars who object to mythicists using the word ‘midrash’ should have a quiet word with their mainstream counterparts who carelessly encourage them.) The point is that even though Spong argued Gospel stories were not historical memories, he nonetheless insisted that there was a historical foundation to them all. He’s not alone. Dennis MacDonald has argued that many scenarios in the Gospel of Mark are adaptations of scenes in the Homeric epics but he, too, makes a point of explicitly stating that he does not believe Jesus himself is a fiction.

So one feels immersed in familiar waters when reading a 1963 translation of the third edition (1958) of Rudolf Bultmann’s  The History of the Synoptic Tradition (originally published 1921) and finds Bultmann likewise being quick to declare that, despite all the legendary or mythical features of Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, he nonetheless is not so sceptical  as to deny that John really and truly did baptize Jesus.

Without disputing the historicity of Jesus’ baptism by John,2 the story as we have it must be classified as legend. (p. 247)

If our earliest record of an event is legend then on what grounds do we decide not to question its historicity?

But even more intriguing is an attached footnote that reads:

2 I cannot share the scepticism of E. Meyer, Ursprung u. Anfaenge d. Christent., I, 1921, pp. 83f.  Indeed Acts 1037f, 1324f. prove that the historical fact of Jesus’ baptism is not necessary for linking the ministry of Jesus to John’s; yet not that this linking must be made by the story of a baptism, or that it could only be made if the baptism of Jesus were not an actual historical fact.

So my recent post about three modern scholars who are sceptical about the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John — Bill Arnal, Leif E. Vaage and Burton Mack — are nothing novel. So the scholarly doubt is at least as old as 1921.

So what was Bultmann’s finding that led him to decide the account of Jesus’ baptism was not historical (even though he still believed the event was historical anyway)? Continue reading “The “Legend” of the Baptism of Jesus (Bultmann flashback)”


Is there a sceptic among the theologians?

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by Neil Godfrey

This afternoon I listened to an interview with some scientists and one vital message came through. Scientists are the biggest sceptics of the lot. A good scientist is always trying to disprove his own hypothesis or results. He wants to be the one to disprove his own thesis rather than having the embarrassment of someone else doing it. A story was told of an astronomer who gave a public lecture before hundreds of his peers explaining not how he had discovered planets around other suns but all the mistakes that led him to realize he had discovered nothing: he was given a standing ovation.

Interviewer: I don’t know if many theologians do that.

I have never heard a scientist warn a layperson against being “too sceptical” though I have heard the warning often from theologian-historians. Continue reading “Is there a sceptic among the theologians?”


It all depends where one enters the circle

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by Neil Godfrey

Reading Jesus the Healer by Stevan Davies alongside Constructing Jesus by Dale Allison is an interesting exercise in chiaroscuro comparisons.

Both agree on the nature of circularity at the heart of historical Jesus studies. Davies begins with a quotation from E. P. Sanders:

In regard to Jesus research E. P. Sanders correctly observes, “There is, as is usual in dealing with historical questions, no opening which does not involve one in a circle of interpretation, that is, which does not depend on points which in turn require us ot understand other [points],” and he insists that “one must be careful to enter the circle at the right point, that is, to choose the best starting place.” The best starting place, it follows, is one that is historically secure with a meaning that can be known somewhat independently from the rest of the evidence. It further follows, as he rightly says, that one should “found the study on bedrock, and especially to begin at the right point.”

In the field of Jesus research, however, one person’s bedrock is another person’s sand. I cannot honestly think of a single supposed bedrock event or interpretive stance that somebody has not denied. Nor, to my knowledge, are there any two constructions of the “authentic” sayings of Jesus that are identical. One might compile a short set of parables, proverbs, and aphorisms that are universally conceded to be from Jesus, but they will be that set that conveys the least inherent meaning . . . and where one can go from there I am not at all sure. (p. 43, my bolding)

Davies opts, then, to embrace as his bedrock two details upon which “scholars agree almost unanimously”: that Jesus was believed in his time to have been (1) a prophet and (2) a healer and exorcist. Continue reading “It all depends where one enters the circle”

Popular Messianic(?) Movements Up To The Time Of Jesus and Beyond – Part 3

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by Neil Godfrey

Samaritan sanctuary, Mount Gerizim
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This continues from Part 2 where I continued discussing what Richard Horsley has to say about popular messianic movements in Israel up to the time of Jesus in Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs. In the last post I covered “social banditry” in Palestine (especially Galilee) and those who were looked upon as rightful kings in the early part of the first century.

What particularly interests me is the evidence that these movements represent popular messianism. Horsley is clear: there is no evidence of popular messianism before the time of Jesus. I have read many assertions that Josephus is describing messianic movements without explicitly describing them as such. But these assertions remind me of William Scott Green’s observation that many scholars have spent a lot of time studying messianism where the word is not found. The first clearest evidence we have of popular messianic hopes relates to the period after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. When we interpret movements before then as messianic are we guilty of reading later ideas back into an earlier period?

I do not deny that any of these pre-70 movements were messianic. They may have been. But what is the evidence? Are there alternative explanations that may fit the evidence (and the evidence for the origins of popular messianism) more economically?

This post addresses the Samaritan who led followers to Mount Gerazim, Theudas and “the Egyptian”. Continue reading “Popular Messianic(?) Movements Up To The Time Of Jesus and Beyond – Part 3”


More reasons for an early Christian to invent the story of Jesus’ baptism

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by Neil Godfrey

Bill Arnal and Leif E. Vaage are not the only scholars who have published doubts about the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. I mentioned them back in January this year. Another was Burton Mack in Myth of Innocence. (The evidence against historicity is in my view overwhelming. I have shown the weakness of the arguments by E. P. Sanders for its historicity and posted before on how the scenes can be explained entirely in terms of literary function and artifice without any need to resort to assumptions of extraneous events outside the text.) But for sake of completeness here is Burton Mack’s argument for treating it as entirely mythical. I highlight in bold type the reasons he sees evident for the need or wish of early Christians to invent the episode. Far from the scene being an embarrassment to the first Christians to have heard the story, it was surely welcomed. Only later evangelists reading Mark’s gospel felt embarrassment over Mark’s account because they had quite different views of Jesus.

The framework stories of the gospels are the most highly mythologized type of material. They include the narratives of Jesus’ birth, baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. The transfiguration story is purely mythological, as are the birth narratives, the story of the empty tomb, and the appearances of the resurrected Jesus to the disciples. Critical scholars would not say that any of these derive from reminiscences.

The baptism story is also mythic, but in this case may derive from lore about Jesus and John the Baptist. Lore about John and Jesus is present in the sayings tradition, in a pronouncement story, and other legends both in Q and in Mark. John the Baptist was a public figure whose social role was similar to that of Jesus and whose followers were regarded by some followers of Jesus as competitors.

Except for the baptism story, however, there is no indication that Jesus and John crossed paths.

Continue reading “More reasons for an early Christian to invent the story of Jesus’ baptism”

The Dying Messiah (refrain)

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by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier has posted a fascinating artticle on the pre-Christian Jewish concept of a dying Messiah and showing the nonsense so thoughtlessly repeated even by scholars the originality of Christianity’s idea that a messiah must die in order to offer saving atonement to his people.

Richard’s post is beautifully lengthy exploring much detail from the evidence.

I can’t resist taking this opportunity to refer to the many posts I have also made on this same theme, although they do not explore the same details as Carrier does — listed below.

My posts are for most part based on other scholars who have advanced the same idea, including a Jewish one who sees certain sectarian Second Temple Jewish ideas about Isaac’s offering (apparently thought by some to have been a literal blood sacrifice that atoned for the Jewish people) overlapping with messianism in the time of the Maccabean martyrs — whose blood also had atoning power.

Other posts are based in some measure on the considerable work of Thomas L. Thompson who has written quite a bit on the concept of pre-Christian messianism.

Of significance is the death of the messianic (anointed high priest) having the power to forgive and atone; and the Davidic messiah himself was very often depicted as a figure of suffering and even ultimate rescue from death or near-death.

Carrier refers to Daniel’s messiah being killed. Saul, another messiah, was also killed. The concept of a messiah per se dying — whether the messiah was humanly fallible or a righteous martyr — was very much a part of the thought world of sectors of Judaism at the time of Christianity’s birth.

Carrier sees the history of messianic pretenders arising in the pre-war period as a possible outcome of the Daniel prophecy. Maybe, but I will have to think that through some more. Till now I have tended to argue that there were no such popular messianic expectations until from the time of the Roman war of 66-70 in a series of posts I have yet to complete. (Carriers post might end up prompting me to finish that now so I can think through his arguments some more.)

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is a list of posts of mine on the same theme — that the idea of a dying messiah was by no means novel to the Jews or original to the Christians. Continue reading “The Dying Messiah (refrain)”


Was Jesus not a teacher after all?

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by Neil Godfrey

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Every scholar engaged in Jesus research is by profession a teacher and so every construction of Jesus the Teacher is formulated by a teacher. These teachers, professors by trade, should wonder if there is not a bit of a Jesus-Like-Us in their constructions. (Stevan L. Davies in Jesus the Healer, 1995)

Most of the Jesus Seminar fellows think that Jesus was not an apocalyptic teacher, so they think that Jesus was a great wisdom teacher, and that helps them to actually preach Jesus, because you can go to the pulpit and say Jesus was a great teacher. (Gerd Ludemann in interview with Rachael Kohn 4th April 2004)

Most scholars, “practically all historical scholars engaged in Jesus research” (says Stevan Davies) “presuppose consciously or unconsciously that Jesus was a teacher.” Davies quotes E. P. Sanders as representative of Jesus research scholars generally and responds with what should be a most fundamental observation:

E. P. Sanders writes, for example, “I do not doubt that those who find the teaching attributed to Jesus in the synoptics to be rich, nuanced, subtle, challenging, and evocative are finding something which is really there. Further, in view of the apparent inability of early Christians to create such material, I do not doubt that the teaching of Jesus contained some or all of these attributes. In short, I do not doubt that he was a great and challenging teacher.” And so, it should follow, we know what Jesus taught. But we don’t. (p. 10, my emphasis) Continue reading “Was Jesus not a teacher after all?”