Daily Archives: 2012-06-15 12:26:49 GMT+0000

Richard Carrier–Thom Stark Debate the Dying Messiah

Richard Carrier’s original post, The Dying Messiah (October 2011)

It is frequently claimed, even by experts in the field, that no Jews expected their messiah to be killed, that all of them expected a militarily triumphant übermensch. And therefore Christianity went totally off-book when it came up with the idea that their “failed” messiah was the “real” messiah. But this is actually demonstrably false. Some Jews did expect a dying messiah.

Thom Stark responded: The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah, Part 1 (April 2012) and Part 2 (May 2012).

I’ll look at two major pieces of evidence Carrier provides for his thesis and show why they really come to naught, when examined properly.

Richard Carrier has since replied: The Dying Messiah Redux (June 2012)

Last year I made the case that the idea of a “dying messiah” was not wholly anathema to Jews and even already imagined by some before Christianity made a lot of hay out of the idea. I have since made small revisions to that article (The Dying Messiah) to make its claims and evidence clearer. This year, Thom Stark (a seminary graduate) wrote a response (The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah). His analysis has changed my opinions on some matters, but ultimately it’s a fail.

I have drawn primarily on the arguments of Thomas L. Thompson to argue in older posts that a dying messiah was certainly not a foreign concept in the Jewish literature. The first messiah, anointed one, ever mentioned, for example, was a high priest whose death liberated certain exiles for inadvertent sin. My ongoing series of what the term “messiah” meant to Jews in Paul’s day — based on Matthew Novenson’s Christ among the Messiahs — will also make relevant contributions to this discussion.

Why many historical Jesus Scholars NEED John to Baptize Jesus

Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336
Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Associate Professor of New Testament Leif E. Vaage argues that New Testament scholars have no valid reasons for believing that John the Baptist really did baptize Jesus. (Vaage, let the reader understand, is by no means denying the historicity of Jesus himself.)

Vaage argues that the author of the Gospel of Mark invented the entire scene of Jesus’ baptism. I am keen to post his reasons for this conclusion. Some of them overlap with suggestions I have advanced in earlier posts on this blog. This post, however, will outline only what Vaage sees as the flaws in the widely held belief that John historically baptized Jesus.

In his chapter “Bird-watching at the Baptism of Jesus: Early Christian Mythmaking in Mark 1:9-11” in Reimagining Christian Origins Vaage writes:

That the historical Jesus was baptized by the historical John is still taken by many scholars to be simply a historical fact: as sure an assumption as any can be on the basis of the canonical Gospel narratives. The reasons for this assumption, however, and furthermore its presumed importance (primarily for characterization of the historical Jesus) are essentially theological . . . . (p. 281, my emphasis)

Why theological?

. . . . as the historical Jesus would thereby evidently no longer be “just” the momentary embodiment of the orthodox second person of the Trinity.

The baptism scene is the anchor that holds Jesus down in history. Without it, we have only tales about one who is all too easily understood as nothing other than a nonhistorical man-divinity. read more »

Earl Doherty’s next installment delayed

Real life issues — health, work, family, personal — sometimes mean that even dedicated internet authors and assistant bloggers cannot keep up a regular schedule. Earl Doherty’s next installment will appear this coming Sunday/Monday (depending on your time zone).

Christ among the Messiahs — Part 1

  • What did Paul — or any of the earliest Christians — mean when they called Jesus “Christ”? I mean before the Gospels were written.
  • If the idea of Christ for earliest Christians and Jews of their day meant a conquering Davidic king, how do we explain why early Christians referred to Jesus as “Christ” and “seed of David” if he was crucified?
  • Did not Paul apply the term Christ to Jesus as a personal name, not as a title? If so, did Paul have his own idiosyncratic view of what Christ meant, if anything, other than a name?
  • If Jews at the time of the Jewish revolt (66-70 ce) were expecting a Messiah who would rise up out of Judea and rule the world (as indicated in Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius), did Paul and other early Christians share this same view with application to Jesus?
  • Did Paul “de-messianize a hitherto-messianic Jesus movement” and turn a Jewish cult into a religion that came to stand in opposition to Judaism?

These questions are addressed and answered by Matthew V. Novenson in his recently published Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism. Matthew Novenson is a lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh. He had earlier addressed aspects of them briefly in a 2009 JBL article, The Jewish Messiahs, the Pauline Christ, and the Gentile Question.

The Problem Stated

Novenson sets out the problem in his introduction:

The problem can be stated simply: Scholars of ancient Judaism, finding only a few diverse references to “messiahs” in Hellenistic- and Roman-period Jewish literature, have concluded that the word did not mean anything determinate [that is, it did not convey, for example, the idea of troubles in the last-days, with an Elijah precursor, a coming to overthrow enemies, establish the kingdom of God, etc] in that period [it was merely a word for anyone/thing “anointed”].

Meanwhile, Pauline interpreters, faced with Paul’s several hundred uses of the Greek word for “messiah,” have concluded that Paul said it but did not mean it, that χριστός in Paul does not bear any of its conventional senses.

To summarize the majority view: “Messiah” did not mean anything determinate in the period in question, and Paul, at any rate, cannot have meant whatever it is that “messiah” did not mean. (pp. 1-2, my formatting)

Novenson finds John Collins’ statement of the problem particularly pointed:

On the Christian side, we have had the astonishing claim that Paul, the earliest Christian writer, did not regard Jesus as the messiah. The ecumenical intentions of such a claim are transparent and honorable, but also misguided since the claim is so plainly false. Jesus is called Christos, anointed, the Greek equivalent of messiah, 270 times in the Pauline corpus. If this is not ample testimony that Paul regarded Jesus as messiah, then words have no meaning. (p. 2)

Novenson’s book argues that for Paul Jesus was the “messiah” in more than just name. But if so, what did the term “messiah” mean to Paul? Novenson will argue that Paul really did understand the word “messiah” in the same sense as other Jews of his day understood the term:

To rephrase my thesis from this perspective: Christ language in Paul is actually an invaluable example of messiah language in ancient Judaism. (p. 3) read more »