A dichotomy fallacy in historical Jesus studies

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by Neil Godfrey

Anthony Le Donne has published works arguing for a new type of historical study, one that draws upon memory theory, to be applied to the Gospels. He and a number of scholarly supporters believe this new approach can open up a more valid way of approximating the historical Jesus behind the Gospels.

historiographicalJesusIn the opening pages of his opening chapter of The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (2009) Le Donne zeroes in on what he believes is a prevalent fallacy among scholars addressing historical questions in the Gospels and Acts. This is that a good number of well-known scholars have argued that an event in the Gospels-Acts that is expressed as some “typology” or fulfillment of an Old Testament passage should not be thought of as historical, or that it should at least be relegated to a status of questionable historicity. On the other hand, events written as facts and that contain no striking overlay of such Old Testament framing should, rightly, be considered historical, or at least be acknowledged as historical in the mind of the author.

Anthony Le Donne quotes Michael Goulder’s explicit expression of this principle:

Where . . . we find passages with no apparent root in symbolism, or with unimportant traces of types, we shall be justified in assuming that St. Luke was setting down a factual story. . . . This will be our first criterion: where there are no types, Acts is intended to be factual.

Where an incident can be accounted for wholly, or almost wholly, on typological grounds, we shall have to be very wary indeed of giving it weight as history. This gives us a second criterion: the thicker the types, the less likely is the passage to be factual.

I agree with Anthony Le Donne completely that scholars who argue for or against the historicity of a passage in the Gospels and Acts on such are basis are succumbing to fallacious and invalid reasoning. But I also believe that Le Donne has succumbed to an unsupportable assumption of his own and that what he proposes as the correction to this wrong argument is just as baseless.

Where Anthony Le Donne is right

It is quite reasonable to suggest that an event that has been framed or crafted in terms of Old Testament passages was originally an historical happening that was later reinterpreted by others through Old Testament prophecies.

Gosh, the emperor Hadrian used to present himself as Hercules, and the even more illustrious Alexander the Great was presented as the conquering god Dionysus. Mythical overlay of historical events and persons calls for historical explanation, not denial of historicity.

Where Anthony Le Donne and Michael Goulder are both wrong

Michael Goulder

Le Donne and Goulder both appear to succumb to the “why not?” or “why would anyone make it up?” fallacy. If it reads like a straightforward episode then surely, so apparently goes the reasoning, it would be churlish or absurdly hyper-sceptical to doubt its historicity.

This assumption is unjustifiable. It defies all our human experience to think that any statement that comes from an unknown source, couched in a debatable genre, and without any authoritative independent supporting evidence, should be presumed to be basically true.

Biblical scholars try to justify their view that such claims are historical by applying various criteria. Anthony Le Donne does this, too. The first of these is “multiple independent attestations” of an event. But despite sounding so “right” that phrase is vague and it adds nothing real to the question of historicity. There are multiple independent attestations of alien abductions today. That does not prove alien abductions are historical events. There were multiple independent reports of the Virgin Mary appearing at Lourdes. Did that mean she really, historically, appeared?

No, we don’t always need “multiple independent attestations” to establish if something was historical. Just one authoritative attestation can be enough. We only need a single coin or a solitary official monument to give us sure testimony of the historicity of a certain monarch.

We only need a single written account of an event in a work by a known source (author), and if that work conforms to a genre that leads us to expect an interest in the recording of real happenings, and if that work’s overall credibility is supported at some significant point by external (independent) evidence (and keep in mind that support can only come from other sources that are also of known provenance and authoritative, etc), then we can have reasonable grounds for assuming that single written account to have an historical basis. We have a good probability for it being so.

I have written about this in more detail in other posts, and to date I don’t know of any historical facts judged to be “almost certain” to “certain” facts in ancient history that are not sourced from such documents or relics as I describe above.

It is ONLY in the field of Biblical Studies that I have come across scholars who naively believe in the historicity of events and persons without, at some point, the support of truly independent external authoritative testimony and assurance of known provenance. See, for further development of this point, Reasons We Know Ancient Persons Existed and Explanations.

Ed Parish Sanders

Like E. P. Sanders, Anthony Le Donne does later in his book justify his belief in the historicity of Jesus according to various criteria, primarily the criteria of multiple independent attestation and embarrassment. But to do so, he (and Sanders and others) must compound invalid arguments.

They must, for example, insist that the author of the Gospel of John did not know the Gospel of Mark (or any of the other gospels). That is because they need the testimony of the Gospel of John to be an independent witness to, say, the crucifixion of Jesus. But a growing number of scholars — and for very good reasons — do not accept John’s independence from Mark. Do those scholars lack any valid grounds for believing in the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion?

Similarly for Q. Many scholars have taken Q to be an independent source, but a growing number of scholars do not believe in Q. Are they also without grounds for belief in the historicity of Jesus? And even if either Q or John were independent, can anyone say those sources themselves are without some theological agenda? Are they truly objectively authoritative at any level at all?

And we all know (at least regular readers here know, as do readers of other critical New Testament literature) of the fallacies underlying the criterion of embarrassment. In short, there was nothing embarrassing in the first narrative discourses about Jesus. See, for example, the penultimate paragraph of this blog post.

The fallacy of confusing typology with interpretation

Anthony Le Donne

Anthony Le Donne writes on page 3,

Notice here the dichotomy between history and interpretation.

By “interpretation” he means presenting John the Baptist as an Elijah figure.

But if the first evangelists wrote of John the Baptist as an Elijah figure, how can we know if that Elijah presentation was an interpretation of an historical person or, rather, the source of the idea of a John the Baptist figure? Why assume that the Elijah trappings were an interpretative overlay? We saw recently that a fair number (though a minority, yes) of scholars have long argued that John the Baptist was never an historical person. How many classicists doubt that Caesar crossed the Rubicon? The mere fact that a number of scholars can reasonably cast doubt on the historicity of a person or event (and there are other modern scholars who question the historicity of the Baptist scenes in the Gospels) tells us that the grounds for believing in that event’s historicity are problematic at best.
They are not of the order of certainty that we attribute to most other persons and events of significance in studies of ancient history. (Again, see for further development of this point, Reasons We Know Ancient Persons Existed and Explanations.)

No, the fact that we have apparently quotidian events beside typological events and persons does not mean that the latter are mere interpretations of historical realities.

What it most simply tells us is that the sources for the latter are literary, or religious imaginations.

Moreover, I have not had time to develop this point in this post now, but those supposedly “realistic” or “non-typological” events are not really so innocent either when it comes to the Gospels. Is there a single event in any of those books that does not in some way argue for a certain theological belief about Jesus?

In answer to that question, many scholars would quickly point to the “embarrassing” events of Jesus being rejected or denied by his own family and followers. And these scholars (many of them) call themselves “theologians” or “students of the Bible”! 😉 — Surely this objection is disingenuous. Every prophet or man of God has been rejected by his own. That’s what makes Jesus so “theological” or “typological”.

Next objection, please?

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39 thoughts on “A dichotomy fallacy in historical Jesus studies”

  1. This gives us a second criterion: the thicker the types, the less likely is the passage to be fictional.

    Am I reading that right? Even if we reject the tales of Odysseus as historical, we should accept the tales of Virgil’s Ulysses because they are so thick with Homeric types?

    Why is the default that some of Acts is historical? 30% of Acts is speeches which an author couldn’t reproduce so they fill in what it is imagined the speaker would say. Many Acts speeches barely refer to the circumstances. It’s as if the narrative was only to contrive an opportunity to convey certain ideas.

    How much of the Gospels and Acts must be shown to be drawn on OT types, Greek literary types, and other works of the day before the default becomes that the rest is based on literature that no longer exists or was just made up to connect the other bits?

  2. How much of the Gospels and Acts must be shown to be drawn on OT types, Greek literary types, and other works of the day before the default becomes that the rest is based on literature that no longer exists or was just made up to connect the other bits?

    I agree. If a person discovers that the greater part of a story was actually taken from different fairy-tale books, he would be a fool if he draws the conclusion that the remaining parts are true. They could either be taken from now lost sources, or they could be free inventions. To find the origin of every detail is quite simply impossible.


    1. New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash
      Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas
      Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas Part Two
      The Reliance of Luke-Acts on the Writings of Flavius Josephus
      Luke and Josephus (2000)
      Mark’s empty tomb and other translation fables in classical antiquity.

      Those links leave the following verses in Mark unaccounted for:

      Mark 1:4-8; Mark 1:32-39; Mark 2:13-15; Mark 2:23-25; Mark 3:7-12; Mark 5:25-34; Mark 8:13-21; Mark 8:34-38; Mark 9:30-32; Mark 10:10-12; Mark 10:17-31; Mark 11:25-33; Mark 14:1; Mark 14:10; Mark 15:16-20 (New International Version)

      Mark 1:4-8 is about John the Baptist. It sounds like some descriptions of Elijah found in 2 Kings 1:8 and Zechariah13:4.

      Mark 1:32-39 is about casting out demons and praying alone.

      Mark 2:13-15 Jesus calls Levi. Mark never mentions him again but Luke tells us he threw a big party.

      Mark 2:23-25 comes from 1 Kings, IIRC.

      Mark 3:7-12 is about Jesus traveling around and impure spirits recognizing who he is.

      Mark 5:25-34 is about a miracle healing that doesn’t involve spit.

      Mark 8:13-21 is Jesus talking about one of the feeding the multitudes incidents that MacDonald shows coming from one of Telemauchus’ feasts in The Odyssey.

      Mark 8:34-38 begins with the taking up the cross language found in Thomas and goes into Pascal’s Wager.

      Mark 9:30-32 is Jesus predicting his death. This seems to me to be the sort of things the author would insert to tie the story together.

      Mark 10:10-12 is about divorce but Jesus gets it wrong about women being able to divorce. Matthew corrects him.

      Mark 10:17-31 is about how hard it is to get into Heaven. The Ten Commandments at the beginning come from Deuteronomy and Exodus. It ends with a quote from Thomas 4.

      Mark 11:25-33 has Jesus defending his authority and using John the Baptist. His argument may come from a John the Baptist sect’s explanation. I don’t know that but it is easy to see how it could be turned around.

      Mark 14:1 is about the chief priests and teachers plotting to kill Jesus. How would Mark know this?

      Mark 14:10 is about Judas Iscariot going to the chief priests. This character was created out of such verses as Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-13.

      Mark 15:16-20 is about the soldiers mocking Jesus. It sounds like Micah 5:1, Isaiah 50:6, and Psalm 22:7-8.

      Can anyone account for these remaining passages? Mark may have invented a story or two. At what point can we assume that the remaining passages come from a lost document?

      1. Many of these fall into place once one sees the larger message of the Gospel. Jesus is being portrayed as the Messenger/Angel leading his people, exercising the power and authority of God, saving them as the Suffering Servant.

  3. I’ve always had a problem with the idea that if accounts of a person or event are shaped by the OT (or other religious texts) then they or the event was likely not historical. I understand that in the case of Jesus there isn’t much you can point to that *isn’t* framed by the OT, but the same is true for the characters and events described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I haven’t heard anyone ever argue that the Righteous Teacher, the Liar, the Wicked Priest or the invasion of the Kittim were not real people or events, even though all this information is framed by biblical interpretation. How can we say with certainty that these particular people and events existed?

    Hegesippus likewise mentions (twice) that events of James’ life were a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. What information do we have about James that’s earlier than Hegessipus, if Josephus didn’t mention him (as some argue), or if the references to “James” in Paul and the rest of the NT are not clearly discernable as Hegesippus’ James? Was Hegesippus’ James entirely made up from scripture? Then maybe that is the case for James too, if that is the case for Jesus.

    But regardless of the question of whether or not Jesus existed as a human being, framing people and events through the lens of the OT looks like a normal enough thing in second Temple Judaism. And I’m not arguing that this tendency means that, like the figures in the DSS, Jesus existed “too”. But are there any other examples of a first century figure being made up entirely from scripture? I ask because I feel like I might be missing something obvious (Simon Magus?). That might help tip (or at least balance) the scale in favor of this kind of activity, though maybe it’s possible that Jesus was the only one.

    Just thinking out loud.

    1. Hi John,

      Hegesippus was from the second century. Paul talks about James in Galatians in the first century as actually having met him but expresses disdain for him. The Epistle of James appears to be a response to the letter to the Galatians.

      Paul calls James “the Lord’s brother” but he was apparently being sarcastic. See Galatians 5:12 to see how sarcastic the letter is. The disdain is shown in Galatians 2:6 and he identifies the target of the disdain in Galatians 2:9. In Galatians 2:12, Paul mentions that certain men came from James and in the opening greeting in Galatians 1:1, he adds that he sent by Jesus but “not by a man”. So, in Galatians 1:19, since the Lord sends Paul and James sends other men, he must be like the Lord, in other words, his brother.

      1. I’m aware that Hegesippus is from the second century and that Paul is from the first. Aside from Paul, most Christian literature is from the second century, and Hegesippus is contempory with estimates of the period of gospel production. He was also Jewish Christian and familiar with the Gospel of the Hebrews and other Jewish Christian writings. Nothing he says about James is in conflict with the Letter of James (which I think is genuine, or at least genuinely Jewish Christian). Therefore, I think Hegesippus is a great source for post-70 Jewish Christian thought.

        Regarding your speculation about the meaning of the brother of the Lord, I do think that it refers to Jesus being James’ brother, but I realize there are other ways of looking at it and I don’t insist on this understanding, and my thoughts about an HJ do not rise or fall with that verse.

    2. “I haven’t heard anyone ever argue that the Righteous Teacher, the Liar, the Wicked Priest or the invasion of the Kittim were not real people or events, even though all this information is framed by biblical interpretation. How can we say with certainty that these particular people and events existed?”

      The titles “RIghteous Teacher”, “Liar” and “Wicked Priest” were not themselves taken from OT, but yes, people in all generations, and the Second Temple period included, have sought to apply OT verses (“prophecies”) to contemporary figures. It appears that the DSS documents were referring to events and persons that were the matter of dispute in their own time. Nothing unusual about that.

      But that’s different from creating characters as symbols to tell a theological tale. We see creations of characters all the time — including in Jewish midrash. I have posted on two midrashic tales about the messiah. One relates to Bar Kochba but is clearly fictitious with other characters made up to create the story: http://vridar.org/2011/07/22/birth-and-death-of-the-messiah-two-jewish-midrash-tales/ Moses, Abraham, Solomon, Elisha . . . they were all fabricated to conform to types/analogs to tell theological tales. And other gospels characterize Philip, Mary, and co for similar ends. Look at the symbolic names in the Gospels — Jairus, Bartimaeus, even Peter, . . . did historical people just luckily happen to have the right symbolic name to represent their place in the narrative? Good planning by God there.

      1. “The titles “RIghteous Teacher”, “Liar” and “Wicked Priest” were not themselves taken from OT …”


        If I recall correctly, these titles are taken directly from the OT. Like James, the Righteous Teacher was called the Righteous One (zaddik), and this latter word is found in the OT verses that are interpreted to refer to him.

        Hegesippus does the same thing to explain how James got *his* title: “Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just [or Righteous One] … in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.” This technique is illustrated clearly when he writes: “Thus they [who killed James] fulfilled the Scripture in Isaiah, ‘Let us do away with the Just man …'”

        The titles of others are also derived in similar fashion from the OT, but I don’t have time to elaborate on that.

        I will take a look at your link concerning symbolic names.

        1. Can we be sure “Righteous One” was a title (as in the sense of “high priest” etc) as opposed to a descriptor of a person, like ‘first born’ or ‘man of god’ or ‘anointed one’? Where does the expression “Righteous Teacher” come from (is that just a variant translation of the OT “righteous one”?) But even if a zaddik was a formal title rather than a description then it is not the same as “Righteous Teacher” is it? I’m not even sure that “messiah” or “anointed one” was a formal title in the OT. It was a description of various types of roles and persons, but not a title as far as I recall.

          1. Neil,

            Well, whether we say title, or name, term, expression, I only meant to point out that both James and the Righteous Teacher were called the Righteous One, and that in both cases this term is derived from scripture.

            The term Righteous Teacher is more of a descriptor than an official title, as elsewhere he is called the yoreh hazedek (he who pours down righteousness), and on one occassion “the priest”.

            He was someone who taught or made known righteousness. The key behind these “titles” is the word zaddik, or rather it’s three letter root, ZDK, for wheneve the exegete sees this word and its cognates, regardless of it’s context, it is seen as referring to the Righteous Teacher. The same thing is done by Hegesippus regarding James.

        2. John,

          za and dik(a) in Ancient Greek – ‘very just(ice)’.

          Zaddik-cees as sadducees?

          And in relation to the Sadducees I find both Boethus of Sidon and Boethus of Alexandria to be very illuminating when examined in duplicate.

          1. Richard,

            I’m not sure what you are driving at with the links you see between Hellenistic culture and the Damascus Document (re: the three nets of Belial in Homer, and a link between Boethus of Sidon and Boethus of Alexandria and the Sadducees, which is an interesting question, though sources suggest there may have been two kinds of Sadducees, one pro-Herodian and the other being the kind that produced the DSS).

            While I wouldn’t rule out a Greek origin for this or that idea in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I think that, on the whole, the Scrolls exhibit a violently anti-Hellenistic attitude, like the Maccabees. I see a more philo-Hellenistic attitude coming from the Pharisees, who were generally pro-Greek/pro-Herodian/pro-Roman in orientation (to such an extent that the Sadducee Alexander Janneaus crucified 800 of them), and thus they were consequently seen as enemies to the DSS sect.

            1. We could also compare Ephraim and Samos. Ephraim as the (errant) ally of Judah and Samos as the (errant) ally of Athens during the Peloponnesian War.

  4. Neil,

    As I was pondering the gospels-as-midrash idea you’ve discussed in your link above and in other posts, it occurred to me that the question might be, are the gospels like a midrash or a pesher?


    Consider the big picture. Generally speaking, what group created and transmitted the midrashic literature, including the Lamenations Rabbah cited in your link? Pharisees and rabbinical Jews, right? And in any event, if I recall correctly, none of this literature can be proven to have existed in the first century, at least not in the form in which we have it now, if we wanted to get nitpicky.

    But not only can we be certain that peshers existed in the first century, we see from Hegesippus that the same technique was used by Jewish Christians in the second.

    And the Pharisees are presented as being enemies of the earliest Christians in both the NT and Hegesippus (and in the Dead Sea Scrolls). It would seem strange to me if the earliest Christians utilized the interpretation technique and literary style of their enemies.

    Though there may be discernable allusions to the OT in Mark, Mark starts his gospel right off the bat by citing a verse from Isaiah (if confusing him with another prophet) -a verse that was important to the DSS sect as being as a reference to “the Way,” i.e., their manner of life (a term used in Acts to describe the earliest Christians). Then there is suprisingly very little direct citation of the OT in Mark after that.

    McDonald convinces me that Mark imitated Homer (and admirably at that), but this talent of Mark’s strikes me as being stronger than his knowledge of the OT, considering how badly he bungles his citation of it right at the beginning of his gospel. Mark strikes me as a bad pesher, or at least a pesher with a different agenda than that of DSS sect and Jewish Christians.

    In this light, it would make sense that Matthew and Luke made their gospels to not only “improve” or add to Mark and champion their respective outlooks (one being more or less Jewish Christian, the other more or less Pauline), but to also be better “peshers,” as their significantly higher number of cited OT verses show.

  5. If James was not the Righteous Teacher, then, as Eisenman supposes, one must, at least by default if nothing else, think or be okay with the idea that there was another messianic second temple Jewish sect with a faith and works doctrine led by a Righteous One, that practiced a New Covenant in a place called Damascus, with an inner structure of twelve and three, who believed in revelations hidden scripture concerning the last days and that the holy spirit was revealed by a singular messiah, wrote letters about how to be saved in the last days and had an enemy who rejected the Law and formed his own congregation, but who otherwise left no trace in the historical records.

    So let’s just assume for a moment that James was the Righteous Teacher, while also bearing in mind Hegesippus’ high regard for him. Compare this with Paul’s characterization of James, Peter and John as “those who seemed to be pillars” and “seemed to be important,” and that, “Whatever they were makes no difference to me” in Galatians, and of Jewish Christian apostles in 2 Corinthians 11: “Are they Hebrews? So am I … Are they servants of Christ? … I am more.”

    How would someone like Paul look to them? Well, we know that he was such a big deal to later Jewish Christians that they wouldn’t shut up about him for a few centuries. We can also get a clue from Paul’s encounter with Jewish Christians in Antioch in the first century:

    “Before certain men came from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcission group. The other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”

    Not only does this passage demonstrate James’ power and reach (whoever this James may have been) and Paul’s attitude about it, but this kind of separating from a lawless person is also mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule:

    “He shall keep away from him in all things; as it is written, Keep away from all that is false (Ex. 23:2). No member of the community shall follow them in matters of doctrine and justice, or eat or drink anything of theirs … as it is written, Keep away from the man in whose nostrils is breath, for wherein is he counted (Is. 2:22) …”

    And what specifically did the “Liar” do in the DSS? He “chastised the Righteous Teacher” and “rejected the Law in the midst of their entire assembly” and he and his followers were “unfaithful in the New Covenant in that they have not believed in the Covenant of God” and “poured over Israel the waters of lying and caused them to wander in a trackless waste with no Way … abolishing the pathways of righteousness and removing the boundary markers which the First marked out as their inheritance.”

    If this was not Paul who did this to a group called that practiced the Way and the New Covenant in Damascus, then who else seems like a better fit?

  6. Hi John!
    You are right: I wonder whether your links James/Righteous Teacher and Paul/the “Liar” can be harmonized with the Roger Parvus view (and a little of Eisenman view) about Paul being the same Simon of Samaria or Simon Magus enemy of James.

    The problem is that what is securely more near to an hypothetical ”gospel of pillars” was probably the Book of Revelation, with it hate against the Paulines (these that ”say to be Jews but aren’t Jews”).
    But in the DSS there is absolutely nothing about Jesus celestial Warrior of Revelation, indeed there is nothing about Jesus at all.
    Sid Martin, I think, that ”reduces” the gospel to DSS (I will read his book) , has the same problem; so in his preview of the book Secret of the Savior :

    The story is now in present time. If Mark knew of an historical Jesus, we would expect him to appear here in stark relief. Mark would let “Jesus” be Jesus. Instead, Jesus disappears entirely from the scene. For Mark, John is an historical figure, while “Jesus” is a literary device used to refer to savior figures before and after John.

    moral: even if you have the ”DDS-coloured-glasses” (pardon my Doherty echo) you never find an historical Jesus (if the role of Righteous Teacher is just assigned to James, obviously).

    But regard your question 19:41:21 (Gospel as pesher and not midrash?) I confess, I dont’t know the answer.


    1. Giuseppe,

      I definitely do have DSS-colored glasses, but I don’t think there is much hope for finding a definite “historical Jesus” in the DSS (or a mythical one, either), at least one that would satisfy everyone. And I think this is because the DSS sect kept their revelations that they believed were hidden in scripture a secret from outsiders. Consequently, I think the quest for an historical (or mythical) Jesus ultimately leads to a black hole with a bunch of debris floating around it. But I’m confident that we at least now know where the black hole is located, and there’s a lot of stuff in that debris that makes me lean towards an HJ.

      Funny you should mention Mark. As I was reading Mark the other day I was struck by how “Jamesian”-like some of the sayings of Jesus were -just a sense I had, a vibe, if you will. I had the “feeling” that for all of Mark’s remove from Jewish Christianity, there’s something about those sayings that “rings true.”

      So my big question to look into today was, is there anything of Mark in Thomas? Being that Thomas is considered “Q”-like (not that I’ve settled the matter of the existence of “Q” in my mind), I expected that nothing from Mark would be there, but there is actually quite a bit, and some interesting arguments online that Mark may have gotten some of these sayings of Jesus from Thomas. That would make a lot of sense to me, if so, but it’s something I would need to look into more before I could form any opinion on that matter.

      As for finding a celestial warrior “Jesus” in the DSS, it’s worth pointing out that the Messiah in the Scrolls is certainly depicted as a warrior, and there is definitely a celestial facet to the DSS sect’s thinking in general, and there are other things that the Messiah was expected to do (or had done) that Jesus is said to have done in the NT (reveal the Holy Spirit, raise the dead, make the blind see, etc.), not to mention the reference to seeing God’s “Jesus” (whatever that may have meant to the sect) in the Damascus Document. This is an area worth exploring, but finding “Jesus” is actually not my main interest. I’d be happy if people saw the DSS sect as the one led by James, and to let the chips fall where they may on the Jesus question.

  7. Thanks John for the suggestive answer.

    some thoughts arising in mind:

    but if ”the DSS sect kept their revelations that they believed were hidden in scripture a secret from outsiders”, why the Book of Revelation — i.e. what more similar to DDS I can imagine — reveals the hidden ”secret” in a loud voice ? You can reply pointing indeed to the ”heretical” action of the ”Liar”/Paul & company in the middle, but it’s very strange that the same silence of Paul about HJ is repeated again and again in Revelation. Non only the heretic ”Liar” is silent, but the ”sectarians” too. Usually the heretical intruder reveals to outsiders the secret of an esoteric sect, doesn’t make it more ”secret”.

    I’d be happy if people saw the DSS sect as the one led by James, and to let the chips fall where they may on the Jesus question.

    The solution to this enigma, I suspect, can be only like Einseman’s (HJ a zealot or a Righteous Teacher before James) or Essenic Mythicist (”Jesus” is the allegory of Savior).


    1. Giuseppe,

      I need to mull over your thoughts about the Liar/Paul and Revelation the issue of keeping secrets. But one thing that comes immediately to mind is, regardless of whether an NT writing came from proto-orthodox, Jewish or gnostic Christians (I’m thinking of the Gospel of John in the latter case), just about everything looks like it’s been tampered with at some point to support later orthodox beliefs.

      Also, aside from Paul (though some argue against that), it looks like everything in else in the NT was written post-70 after the war with Rome, by people who weren’t in the same situation as pre-70 Jewish Christians.

      So I try to take these “later” Christian writings with a grain of salt, knowing that, with few exceptions, the NT writers were not as close to the black hole as the DSS sect, nor in the same war time situation.

      I think there’s a way (pun intended) to get as close to the black hole as possible. I’m going to go ahead and say that I think the Damascus Document was the first “gospel.” It looks like a hybrid of a pesher and the Community Rule, with a little history from a theological perspective thrown in. It’s like the Way for dummies, and seems aimed at converts. That this was it’s intention is supported by the fact that copies of this document were found in Cairo, so we know that at least at some point it had circulated outside Judea. Bearing in mind all the similarities in doctrine and people and events that the DSS sect shares with Jewish Christianity, I think the heart of the black hole *has* to be in this history.

      The problem is that people take the reference in the Damascus Document to the “390 years” of the “age of wrath” that followed the first exile too literally, and thus wind up in the Maccabee era, at the cost of overlooking the major similarities the DSS share with the proto-Jewish Christian era. I’m more willing to allow the sect some room for poetic license and consider this a reference to Ezekiel (4:5: “I have assigned to you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel”), than to imagine that they thought that God literally just so happened to “visit” the sect precisely 390 years after Nebuchadnezzar. The fact that Ezekiel is cited three times in the Damascus Doc. supports this theory.

      So what happens when we dispense with this exactly “390 years” nonsense and consider what the rest of their history says (I’ll use Vermes):

      “He [God] visited them, and He caused a root of planting to spring forth from Israel and Aaron to inherit His land and to prosper on the good things of His earth. And they perceived their iniquity and recognized that they were guilty men, yet for twenty years they were like blind men groping for the Way. And God considered their deeds [or “works”], that they sought Him with a whole heart, and he raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart. And he [the teacher] made known to the latter generations that which God had done to the latter generation, the congregation of traitors, to those who departed from the Way. This was the time of which it is written, like a stubborn heifer thus was Israel stubborn, when the Scoffer arose who shed over Israel the waters of lies.”

      Considering all the similarities between the DSS sect and Jewish Christians, it’s incredible to see that the former believed that God had *visited* them twenty years before the Righteous Teacher (who strongly resembles James), who is said to have lived in the time of the scoffer who strongly resembles Paul.

      So at some point prior to the Righteous Teacher, God had “visited them, and He caused a root of planting to spring forth from Israel and Aaron … and they perceived their iniquity and recognized that they were guilty men.”

      I’ve always wondered why after God had visited them that they then were “like blind men groping for the Way,” and it occured to me (and yes, I am merely reading into the text, though it is resting on a solid foundation when the all the other similarities the DSS share with Jewish Christianity are taken into account), maybe it’s becasue the “root of planting” wasn’t around anymore!

      Back when I was trying to get my head around Earl’s theories, I noticed this passage in the Ascension of Isaiah (4:3) that says that Beliar will “persecute the plant which the twelve apostles planted.” It made me think of the root of planting in the Damascus Document, as well as the shared ideology ogf Belial/Beliar controling the world.

      I gotta go. I’m running out of time. But this is where my head is at the moment and I appreciate the opportunity to air it out in this forum.

      1. Guiseppe,

        You wrote:

        “… if ”the DSS sect kept their revelations that they believed were hidden in scripture a secret from outsiders”, why the Book of Revelation — i.e. what more similar to DDS I can imagine — reveals the hidden ”secret” in a loud voice ? You can reply pointing indeed to the ”heretical” action of the ”Liar”/Paul & company in the middle, but it’s very strange that the same silence of Paul about HJ is repeated again and again in Revelation. Non only the heretic ”Liar” is silent, but the ”sectarians” too. Usually the heretical intruder reveals to outsiders the secret of an esoteric sect, doesn’t make it more ”secret”.”

        Whatever its origin or redaction history may be, Revelation seems post-70 to me, when the cat seems to have been out of the bag about the mysteries hidden in scripture about Jesus. By this time more or less “everyone” was talking about Jesus. I think this is likely because the ban on revealing secrets could not be enforced after the sect was crushed in the war with Rome (and it doesn’t seem to have been kept entirely a secret even before that, as the short history of the sect in the Damascus Document shows, and with Paul’s big mouth).

        I think Rev. 2:14 alone is illustrative of the remove (in time and geography) that even this document, which some consider to have a Jewish Christian origin, had from the Dead Sea Scrolls sect:

        “Some … hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.”

        This looks like a distorted reference to the Three Nets of Belial (not Balaam/Balak) in the Damascus Document (the one scroll we know for certain circulated outside Judea):

        ” … these are the three nets of Belial with which … he catches Israel by setting them up as three kinds of righteousness … the first is riches, the second is fornication, and the third is profanation of the temple.”

        All three “nets” were issues for James and Jewish Christians, as seen in the anti-rich position of the Letter of James and the presentation of James and Jewish Christians in Acts concerning the other two “nets.” To me, Acts seems to know about the Damascus Document, and these particular issues it tries to deal with could be another indication of that.

        (And IIRC, Paul refers somewhere to an accusation against him that he was casting a “snare” before people, perhaps it ties in with this or perhaps it doesn’t, but I don’t have time to check that now.)

        As I’ve said elsewhere, I tend to take “later” Christian writings like Revelation with a grain of salt, knowing that they weren’t as close in time and geography to the black hole.

        1. While it may or may not have anything to do with the “three nets of Belial,” it is interesting that Paul says, in a the midst of a discussion about sexuality, “And this I say for your profit, not that I may set a snare [brochon: noose/snare/restraint] before you …” (1 Cor. 7:35). (Rev. 2:14, by comparison, uses skandolon: stumbling block/snare.) Maybe it means nothing.

          1. Actually, Guiseppe, Paul’s reference may have everything to do with the three nets of Belial. I haven’t read Eisenman with fervor for several years, so I’m operating on memory and things I’ve learned from others coupled my own thoughts, and I didn’t see the bigger picture here.

            Not only is Paul’s reference to casting a snare in 1 Cor 7:35 in the midst of one of the subjects of the three “nets” (sexuality/fornication), it’s a part of a larger discussion (ch. 8) that goes on to discuss things sacrificed to idols, yet another “net.”

            This is another instance where we can see Paul’s letters intersecting with ideas that are present in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and we can see how this “info” was increasingly garbled or spun by outsiders, first by Paul, then the authors of Revelation and Acts.

              1. Richard,

                The Damascus Document says that the three nets of Belial are an interpretation of Is. 24:17: “Satan [Belial] shall be unleashed against Israel, as He spoke by the hand of Isaiah, son of Amoz, saying, ‘Terror and the pit and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the land.’ Interpreted ,these are the three nets of Satan [Belial] …”

            1. John,
              excuse my delay to answer. I read The Amazing Colossal Apostle of Robert M Price, and with Eisenman I am sympathetic to see behind the conflict ”Liar” versus Righteous Teacher the same conflict between Simon Magus/”Paul” versus James and Pillars (I hope to listen Parvus about this). I don’t believe however in the identity ”Wicked Priest”=Ananus, because in Antiquities 20.200, the famous tou legomenou Christou, is probably an interpolation.


              1. Guiseppe,

                Don’t worry about responding to me in a timely manner. I don’t go online much these days, so unless I’m doing research or making lots of comments here (like I am currently, which is unusual), I’ve got all the time in the world.

                You wrote:

                “I don’t believe however in the identity ”Wicked Priest”=Ananus, because in Antiquities 20.200, the famous tou legomenou Christou, is probably an interpolation.”

                I have to admit that this idea has been a big stumbling block for me when it comes to identifying the Wicked Priest as Ananus and James the Righteous as the James that he killed. I’m willing to concede that this latter James could have been the brother of Jesus Damneus (sp?). This guy just had to be called Jesus! So I suppose all I can say about it now is that it may not be necessary for identifying James the Righteous.

                However, there is still the matter of Origen. While I can suppose that the expression “who is called Christ” could have come from Matthew and then been interpolated into Josephus, as Doherty suggests, it is extremely difficult for me to think that this interpolation happened before the time of Origen, regardless of the subject matter. I don’t see Christians of any sort -let alone Jewish Christians- having the power to alter a text like this before Origen’s time. That makes me think this could still be “our” James.

                For in addition to Origen’s reference, Josephus mentions that this James was killed along with “certain others,” and the same is true for the Righteous Teacher in the Habakkuk Pesher, that he was killed by the Wicked Priest along with the “men of his council.” That seeems rather coincidental, especially when all the other similarities between James and the Righteous Teacher are taken into consideration. But I won’t insist on this because I can’t make a firm conclusion.

            2. The three nets of Belial, or more specifically the third net (pollution of the Temple) is an issue I’m not sure I have my head completely around. One thing I do know is that polluting the Temple is a charge made against Paul in Acts (whatever it’s historical accuracy): “This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (21:28).

              The “flow” of 1 Corinthians seems to show awareness of keeping secrets and the three nets of Belial to me, begining with 4:1: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the secret things of God.”

              Then launches into a long discussion of the issue of “fornication” and related sexual matters (ch. 5-7), in the midst of which he mentions that he’s not casting a snare (7:35). Then he discusses things (or food) that is sacrificed to idols in ch. 8.

              The issue of “things sacrificed to idols” is presented as being a Jamesian ordinance in Acts 15 and 21, it’s also mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls (MMT): “Concerning the sacrifices of Gentiles, we say that in reality they sacrifice to the idol that seduces them; therefore it is illicit.” The Temple Scroll (col. 46-47 also discusses this kind of issue, and Josephus says that stopping the sacrifces on behalf of gentiles set off the war with Rome (War 2.17.2-4).

              This could be how the issue of “things sacrificed to idols” ties in with the third net of Belial, pollution of the Temple. It at least ties in with the presentation of James in Acts and Paul’s need to discuss the issue at length in 1 Corinthians. It’s also mentioned in Hippolytus’ discussion of the Essenes: “If however, anyone would even put to the torture persons of this description, in order to induce any among them either to speak evil of the law or eat what is sacrificed to an idol, he will not effect his purpose, for one of this party submits to death and endures torment rather than vilote his conscience” (Refutation of All Heresies 9:21). This is quite different than the opinion Paul expresses in Cor 8.

              But whatever the case may be, Paul says throughout 1 Corinthians that he and his followers were the Temple: “You are… God’s building” (3:9-15); “God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (3:17); “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit …” (6:19). In this sense, he thnks Jesus is the Temple: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? (6:15), and he expresses concern that sexual immorality will pollute it: “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her body?” (6:15-16).

              Whatever the meaning of things sacrificed to idols may be, this point of view makes it clear that in addition to the “net” of fornication, Paul is aware of the idea of polluting the Temple, the third “net.” The only difference is that he thinks Jesus, in the sense of being united with Christians, is the Temple, so in his own “inimitable way” (as Eisenman puits it) he is worried about the pollution of this “temple” and not the real one, like in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

              1. While I want to get around to the issue of Ananus and the Wicked Priest, I wanted to mention that, in reference to a comment I made above about the issue of Origen and the James passage in Ant. 20, it has finally gotten through my thick skull that Origen never mentions Ant. 20, only the “lost passage.” For some reason this has been a huge blind spot, for almost twenty years, but now I get it. That means it’s exactly as Earl says, the first reference to Ant. 20 is Eusebius, and that’s not good, and puts the Ant. 20 James passage in the same category as the TF.

                But before I let it go, there are still plenty of other reasons to suspect that Ananus was the Wicked Priest in the Scrolls, and that he killed James/the Righteous Teacher, and when I have more time I want to make these reasons clear.

  8. John,
    it’s curious what happened to me before I read your last post: I was reading quickly the Damascus Document (moreover in a imperfect italian traduction taken from web) and I have the same your feelings almost at every point after signaled from you. I refer especially to:

    God had “visited them, and He caused a root of planting to spring forth from Israel and Aaron … and they perceived their iniquity and recognized that they were guilty men.”

    “like blind men groping for the Way,”

    Allusion to a man too rapidly divinized? Or to God into act of historicizing Himself? Or to the same embrional Gospel of Mark?

    I can’t wait to read Sid Martin about!


  9. John,

    I don’t see Christians of any sort -let alone Jewish Christians- having the power to alter a text like this before Origen’s time.
    but the same Judeo-christians had probably partially interpolated the passage on John the Baptist, before Origen’s time, at least about the baptism’s view.

    But I am always opened to new surprises!


    1. “but the same Judeo-christians had probably partially interpolated the passage on John the Baptist, before Origen’s time, at least about the baptism’s view.”

      I don’t buy this idea. There is nothing overtly Jewish Christian about it (though there is nothing that is necessarily anti-Jewish Christian about it, either). Where is there a statement that ties him to Jesus or Jewish Christians?

      It is also not the same presentation of John that we see in the NT concerning how and why he died. While this doesn’t exclude Jewish Christians from possibly doing it, but it’s very hard for me to imagine them having the power to do this before Origen’s time (or any time, for that matter).

  10. Guiseppe,

    You mention having doubts that Ananus is the Wicked Priest in the Dead Sea Scrolls because the “who is called Christ” reference in Ant. 20 may be an interpolation. Doherty suggests that this expression could have come from Matthew, but it seems just as plausible to me that Matthew could have been aware of this expression from Josephus, considering that Luke seems to have used Josephus.

    While both scenario’s are possible, the interpolation option seems unlikely to me because it would have to have happened sometime between 100 and the time that Origen was writing in the 200’s.

    I picture the scenario would have to work like this: A Christian (of whatever sort) between 100 and the 200’s, left (at some unspecified time, in some unspecified manner) a marginal note that then (in another unspecified time and manner) became interpolated (by another unspecified Christian) into an imperially sanctioned history (in that Josephus was an adopted member of the Flavians), and that *only* these interpolated copies existed by the 200’s (as far as Origen was aware), long before Christianity was even legal (consider that Origen died in a persecution).

    And Origen was famous for tracking down and comparing multiple translations of the Bible, so it seems odd to me that, by his time, as far as he was aware, there wasn’t a single “pre-interpolated” Josephus’ around.

    This strikes me as not only an unlikely scenario (or at least a less likely one than the idea that Matthew, like Luke, may have known Josephus), but also as a *necessary* effort of a mythicist to explain why all our texts say “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.”

    I’ve got a lot to say about Ananus, and how he is as equally identifiable as the Wicked Priest in the Scrolls, when compared with Josephus, as Paul is as the Liar, when comparing his letters to the Scrolls, but I don’t have time to do that now.

    1. Now that I have finally “seeen the light” on the Origen/Ant. 20 issue, all the reservations I had about whether “who is called Christ” is an interpolation still apply to the John the Baptist passage (less the step of a marginal note).

      I can’t seem to get my act together regarding the Wicked Priest, at least in a manner I would prefer, so I will give a few generalities and maybe that will suffice. All I want is for the DSS to be on the table, and I think the correspondances between Jewish Christianity, James and Paul (or Simon, or whoever wrote letters in Paul’s name) are enough to warrant seeing the correspondances between the Wicked Priest and Ananus in the same light (regardless of who James “the brother of Jesus” may have been).

      I suppose any number of these similarities could exist in references to other “Righteous Ones” who were executed, like Onias the Righteous in Ant. 14.2.1. And while there general similarities between Onias and the Righteous Teacher (holy guy gets put to death by wicked people in a bad mood), the details of the later deaths of Ananus and the WP are strikingly similar.

      Some of these similarities are:

      1. Both Josephus’ “James” and the Righteous Teacher were put on trial by someone characterized as ‘wicked’ for unspecified/vague reasons

      2. Both Ananus and the WP were then murdered by violent extremists (cf. Idumeans in War 4.5.2)

      3. The corpses of both Ananus and the WP were then desecrated by these extremists

      4. Both Ananus and the WP were characterized as having a bad temper

      5. Both Ananus and the WP are portrayed as being a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guy. While Josephus is glowing of Ananus in the War (and this account of Ananus’ death and how it meant the downfall of Jerusalem is a probable source of Origen’s lost passage about James. There is even a Jesus mentioned there. Perhaps he ‘misremembered’ something from the War), in Ant. 20 he says that Ananus “was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent,” and that he killed “James” when he was “of this disposition.” He also tries to harm Josephus in Life 38) and he says that the people were greatly provoked by Ananus (60). By comparison, the DSS say that the WP “was called by the name of truth when he first arose, but when he ruled over Israel his heart became proud, and he forsook God and betrayed the precepts for the sake of riches … and he took the wealth of the peoples, heaping sinful iniquity upon himself.”

      6. Both Ananus and the WP are said to have “ruled” (cf. above with Ant. 20: “Agrippa took the high priesthood away from him, when he had ruled but three months”)

      7. Both took from the poor (cf. what is said above of the WP with behavior instigated by Ananus’ family in Ant. 20.8.8)

      There’s a bit more, and all the above could be explicated more, but I’m out of time.

      1. 8. Both Ananus and the WP executed not only “James”/the Righteous Teacher, but Ananus also killed “some others” with him, and the Habakkuk Pesher mentions that the RT was killed along with “the men of his council,” another interesting detail.

        1. Regarding similarity no. 7 and the family of Ananus being involved in plundering the poor (immediately after the “James” passage), I meant to cite Ant. 20.9.2-3 instead of 20.8.8.

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