Robert Eisenman: Interview and Opportunity to Engage In Discussion

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by Neil Godfrey

Robert Eisenman
Robert Eisenman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lengthy interview with Emeritus Professor Robert Eisenman has been posted on the JesusMysteries Discussion Forum. Anyone not familiar with the name can bring themselves up to speed on Robert Eisenman’s Wikipedia page.

Dennis Walker writes by way of introduction:

Clarice and I decided to ask Dead Sea Scroll scholar Robert Eisenman a few questions for the forum, and he generously responded. This is a long post, but I hope some who are familiar with his work over the years find it interesting. Eisenman isn’t quite a “mythicist,” but his work definitely put me on the road to questioning the existence of a historical Jesus, though ‘Jesus’ really hasn’t been his focus at all. Eisenman is now Emeritus Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology and Islamic Law at California State University, Long Beach.

I particularly liked Eisenman’s closing remarks:

Thank you for the opportunity of contributing to and participating in your web discussions. Keep up the good work, as they say, and don’t allow yourselves to be defeated or discouraged by any hostile ‘academicians’ or reputed ‘scholars’. These, in the end will always be the hardest either to influence or bring over to the kind of thinking you represent since they have the most to lose by either acknowledging or entertaining it, largely because they would be seen as somewhat ridiculous by their peers if they were to deny the whole thrust of their previous academic work and training.

We must leave them like this, but should not expect any different from them or be discouraged in any way by them. You are the final judge of these things and you have sufficient information and data at your fingertips to make your own final, intelligent, and incisive judgments which will hopefully be full of insight.

(My own highlighting in both quotations.)

It appears that Professor Eisenman will be available in the coming weeks to respond to any feedback and questions any of us may like to raise with him.

This looks like a very rare opportunity not to be let go. (And you don’t have to pay to enter a private forum, either.)

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8 thoughts on “Robert Eisenman: Interview and Opportunity to Engage In Discussion”

  1. I’ve been a big promoter of Eisenman since I first read JBJ in 1997. I think his idea that the Dead Sea Scrolls sect and the Jerusalem church were one and the same is correct and that he ably and amply demonstrates this in his works. I think this idea does not conflict with the idea that Jesus was a myth, and may perhaps even support it.

    My impression of Eisenman’s opinion regarding the existence of Jesus is summed up nicely on the back cover of JBJ, that if he did exist then he was likely similar to James.

    I’ve read no one like him, before or since, particularly where the DSS are concerned. The works of other scholars I’d read concerning the latter (ranging from Golb to Thiering) left me unsatisfied. Eisenman “gets” the movement behind the Scrolls like no one else. I’m very happy to see this post and hope to see more on him here in the future.

    1. Hello John: You make good points. Dr Eisenman is brilliant and a good writer. Despite that, I think one may argue his reliance upon an assumed veracity of the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions in JBJ probably is not warranted. At least if the However, if those ancient romance-adventure novels do report a core history of early Christianity as he thinks, then his work comes close to as good as it can be.

      What do you think? Is the Clementine literature factual or fictional?

      Best Wishes

      1. I should let Eisenman speak for himself.

        In an interview at the end of his article “Theory of Judeo-Christian Origins: The Last Column of the Damascus Document”


        he says:

        “[T]he Pseudoclementines are as fictional as much of the material in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. We’re talking about Hellenistic romantics across the board here. I don’t think the Pseudoclementines are telling us anything particularly interesting except that there were some problems in the previous era.”

        And in JBJ he writes:

        “[T]here are lost materials like the documents referred to by scholars as the ‘Kerygamata Petrou’, the ‘Teaching of Peter’, or another lost work, the ‘Travels of Peter’. These are difficult to reconstruct with any certainty, but are thought to have been incorporated into the cluster of documents known as the Pseudoclementines ….


        “Apart from doctrinal considerations, which are important for later second-third-century groups known in the field as ‘Jewish Christians’ or ‘Ebionites’, there are materials, particularly in the First Book of the Recognitions, that are important as a kind of anti-Acts. They present a picture of the early days of the Church in Jerusalem from the point of view not of a Luke or a Paul, but of a writer sympathetic to the views and person of James …

        “It can be objected that the Pseudoclementines are not history but fiction -hence the epithet ‘pseudo’. But this is what we are dealing with in regard to most documents from this period, except those with outright historical intent like Josephus. On this basis, the Pseudoclementines do not differ appreciably from more familiar documents like the Gospels or the Book of Acts. Particularly, the first ten or fifteen chapters of Acts are so imaginary as to contain almost no overtly historical material that one can entertain with any degree of certitude. The Pseudoclementines are no more counterfeit than these. But that is just the point -all such documents must be treated equally, according to the same parameters …

        “The Pseudoclementines give a picture of the early Church in Palestine at odds with the one presented in Acts, yet meshing with it at key points … [A] case can be made for their being based on the same source as Acts -that is, the Pseudoclementines and Acts connect in a series of recognizable common joins, but the material is being treated differently in one narrative than in the other …

        “It matters not that the Pseudoclementines are considered by some to be third- or fourth-century documents … It is not the documents in their present form that matter. What matters is the source underlying them. At least where the beginning of the Recognitions is concerned, this can be shown to be the same as the one underlying the more fantastic and less historical first half of the Book of Acts before the ‘We Document’ intrudes in the second. In fact, both Acts and rthe Pseudoclementines are We Documents. Moreover, the Pseudoclementines are more faithful to the sense of this source and a more faithful presentation of it than Acts” (JBJ pp. 75-77).

        “It is the position of this book that the authors of Acts and the authors of the Pseudoclementines are, in fact, working off the same source. Both are Hellenistic romances, but where points of contact can indisputedly be shown between the two narratives -as, for instance, in the First Book of the Recognitions- the Pseudoclementines are more faithful to their original source …

        “Granted, speeches in the Pseudoclementines cannot, perhaps, be relied on any more than those in Acts (there are exceptions), but neither can they in Josephus, to say nothing of the Gospels. It was common custom in Greco-Roman historical narrative from Thuccydides onwards for the narrator to supply important speeches according to what he thought the speaker would or should have said …

        “But where historical sequencing and actual physical actions go, the First Book of the Pseudoclementine Recognitions is very reliable indeed, as is the Book of Acts from chapter 16 onwards, where the ‘We Document’ first makes its appearance, thus giving Acts too the character of a travel narrative written by someone who actually accompanied its principal character, Paul, on his journeys. This is similar to the modus operandi of the Pseudoclementines … ” (JBJ p. 603-604).

        I don’t think his theories rely on the Pseudoclementines. He tries to make sense out of them along with the other documents that pertain to Christian origins, and fits them into the greater whole.

    1. Unpacking Eisenman’s New Testament Code, Gould makes an interesting comment about Acts:
      As Gould argues, a fascinating story from Acts is Simon Peter’s famous “tablecloth vision” from Chapter 10 [It will be recalled that “Peter” (i.e., “Rocky”) is a nickname that Simon has acquired, presumably because his support of Jesus was “solid as a rock”.] Peter is going to be invited to dinner by a centurion, Cornelius from the Italica regiment in Caesarea, who is improbably described as “fearing God”, “giving many gifts to the poor”, and “supplicating God continuously” (Acts 10:1-2). Peter has a vision in which a heavenly tablecloth descends, covered with various animals, which he is instructed by a voice to “kill and eat. ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything
      impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure
      that God has made clean.’ ” (Acts 10:13-15). Later, Peter summarizes his visit: “You
      are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.
      But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:28).
      This story is one of the most revealing and explosive in the entire New Testament. First, it demonstrates unequivocally that the whole “inclusivist message”, which is directly attributed to Jesus via innumerable Gospel stories, was in fact completely foreign to the historical Jesus. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary for Peter, one of his closest and “rockiest” supporters, to receive a vision about it well after Jesus’s death. Thus, this story, by itself, tells us that vast portions of the Gospels, in which Jesus is pictured as associating and engaging in table fellowship with all kinds of forbidden persons (tax collectors, prostitutes, etc) and dismissing Jewish dietary law in favor of a universalist, humanitarian message (“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him
      unclean but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.” Matt 15:10),
      are just invented from whole cloth. In fact, it is astonishing that anyone can remain a
      believing Christian after pondering this clumsy addendum to the Jesus Gospel stories.

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