Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: How and Why

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by Neil Godfrey

Jerusalem falls

Once Clarke W. Owens extracts the Gospels from the Bible and studies them as literary creations on their historical context something most interesting happens. (Owens, I should point out, is not a mythicist. I believe on the basis of his entry in the Christian Alternative website that he is a Christian though one with a radical perspective.)

If you’re one of those readers who has somehow suspected that Christianity as we know it took shape and momentum as a consequence of the catastrophic events of the Jewish War that culminated in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple then you’ll especially enjoy the way Owens ties the details of those historical events with the literary genre and details of the Gospels.

In the previous post I mentioned Owens’ disappointment that Goulder/Spong attempted to explain the Gospels by reference to the historical context of their authors (i.e. the existence of Jewish Lectionary readings that the authors desired to replace with Christian ones) without taking the next step of investigating why. What would have motivated them to want to do that?

I am not so sure that Goulder/Spong are correct with the lectionary hypothesis, but the real question Owens believes he can answer is “Why did the evangelists write the Gospels at all?” By the Gospels I mean those works that are largely woven together out of the warp and woof of the Jewish Scriptures (and a few related books like Enoch).

Digression on the ‘m’ word

Spong calls this technique midrash; Goulder, I believe, stopped using that term because it raised too many objections among many critics. I have no problem with the term because I have found Jewish scholars specializing in Jewish literature, including the Bible, have also written that the Gospels are largely midrash. If anyone wants to quibble I direct them to my series of posts explaining the use of the term ‘midrash’ in both Jewish and New Testament studies:

  1. Midrash and the Gospels 1: Some definitions and explanations
  2. Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere
  3. Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

But if you still reject the term ‘midrash’ in this context but still acknowledge that the bulk of the Passion Narrative was stitched together out of dozens of allusions to the Jewish Scriptures, and that so much else in the Gospels are based on passages from the Psalms, the Prophets, the tales of Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha, then follow on. Owens explains why such a form of literature was created to tell a story of a crucified saviour by reference to the historical context of the authors and original readers/hearers.

Literary criticism answering the historical question

Owens finds the answer through a literary criticism that understands a work through the historical context of its creators. He accordingly finds the explanation for the Gospels in the Jewish War as we know it through Josephus.

150 years earlier a mere 800 Jews were crucified by Jannaeus.

The Jewish War is full of tales of thousands upon thousands killed and piled on one another in the streets of Jerusalem, and of crucifixions ad nauseam. In V:446-451, Josephus describes how Titus would crucify Jews outside the city walls as a terror tactic: “and so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses no crosses for the bodies.”

It was the Jews, collectively, whose life and culture must be found to have some meaning which, to paraphrase Spong, “death could not be found to contain.” . . .

It was the Roman oppression of the Jewish culture and the eventual obliteration of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. that is corroborated in history, which is transparently alluded to in the gospels, and which is suggested in the character called Jesus (Matt. 1:21: “He will save his people from their sins,” ASV; “Saviour,” NEB) who mirrors the Suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53.

Jesus is a midrashic creation by a culture under siege, meant to embody and idealize that culture, and to stand for the holy and immortal one who triumphs in and through his own persecution and death. Whether or not the Jesus of the gospels was “based” on a real person is not determinable, but the character who appears in the gospels is demonstrably a literary creation — by anyone’s historical theory — because all the things he does in the story are made up from preexisting theological material for theological and cultural purposes.

The destruction of Jewish culture and the slaughter of Jewish people, however, was not made up.

These two premises are accepted by proponents of the midrashic theory of gospel composition, but only the first one is given any significance.

(Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels, my formatting and bolded emphasis)

So it was the Jews who collectively suffered and were crucified and who rose again in a different form as Christians. (Not all, of course. We know many went the way of rabbinism. I think there is evidence that the Gospel controversy stories — Jesus versus the Pharisees — actually reflect the arguments between post 70 C.E. Christian and rabbinical Jews.)

Owens observes that long before the Gospels we can see similar allegorical writing to represent historical circumstances:

Israel is my first-born son. (Exodus 4:22)

Matthew recognizes this literary tradition and equates Jesus with the new Israel:

Out of Egypt I called my son. (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1)

Owens quotes Goulder:

Israel was God’s son in the prefiguring language of the O.T.: and it is in connection with the Exodus that he is so called. (Midrash and Lection in Matthew, p.239)

He also adds Spong’s voice to argue that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant represents Israel and that Luke in particular has melded this motif into the story:

I suspect that this post-Exilic prophet [Deutero-Isaiah] developed this symbol so that he could help the defeated Jewish nation understand that their future did not lie in grandeur, power, or glory. . . .

Luke . . . intermingled the story of Jesus with the story of the servant figure of Isaiah on a fairly constant basis. (Liberating the Gospels, p. 251)

The people of Israel were being crucified. Jesus represents Israel as does the Suffering Servant.

Owens is surprised that Spong does not draw this connection. (I must admit I was surprised to find that Spong concluded his books by affirming his faith despite arguing that virtually every mosaic piece that represented that faith in the gospels was not historical.)

A literary critic dealing with this type of parallelism in any other two works would draw it. [Spong] apparently does not draw it because, like Meier and Miles, to do so would conflict with his ultimately theological purposes . . . .

But there is more.

Owens next examines the sociological phenomenon of Messianism and applies what we know of it to this context. He also examines the nature and function of apocalyptic literature and its relevance for the Gospels.

That will have to be covered in a future post.

Meanwhile, buy and read Clarke Owens’ book. It’s not perfect and there are patches where it is a bit technical and difficult for the untrained, but who cares about a few spots in a work that challenges us with new ways of thinking about old questions and possibly adds substance to a hypothesis we may have vaguely suspected up till now.


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39 thoughts on “Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: How and Why”

  1. “The people of Israel were being crucified. Jesus represents Israel as does the Suffering Servant.”

    While I realize you are planning another post on this book, and that, in any event, the book is about the gospels, I’m wondering how Paul letters fit into this idea.

    I took a peek at the book on google books, and though it’s not complete there, and it doesn’t have any chapters on Paul, I did find a few references to him, but there wasn’t enough available information to get a good idea about how he fits into the picture.

    Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of statements like Jesus being “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).

    1. Paul is a different story with a different Jesus. The author of Mark’s Gospel may well have begun with Paul’s Christ but then reshaped that figure into the character in the gospel narrative. Paul knew of no empty tomb. The gospel introduced the empty tomb story as a midrash on Isaiah 22:16’s metaphor for the fallen temple (Karel Hanhart’s observation), with Jesus as an antitype of the ideal Israel.

        1. I don’t recall Owens making that representation of Jesus. He does show that Paul’s view of the resurrection was spiritual (a new life in the spirit) and that such a symbolic understanding would have been an open door for evangelists to write of Jesus as a symbol. He shows how some of the narrative detail surrounding the resurrection in the gospels is rather pointless when read literally.

  2. Neil, do Owen or yourself have any thoughts as to why the Jesus story was set at the particular point in time that it was? That is, if it’s a response to the Jewish War, why set it during Pilate’s prefecture?

    1. I can’t speak for Clarke Owens on that specifically but he does go on to address the apocalyptic character of the gospels and that, I believe, explains why the story setting had to be some time before the war itself. I’ll be covering some details in the next post.

      For now, though, I’ll just say that apocalyptic literature (e.g. Book of Daniel) typically began with a setting well before the climactic event that had been recently experienced by the readers. This allowed for the prophecy to be delivered miraculously ahead of time, with all the signs leading up to the final event, and the final event itself being depicted in universal generalized terms (never specific). I also believe that the early setting allowed the narrative to cover the debates that were underway between the Christian and rabbinic branches of Judaism after the fall of the Temple. Jesus was developed not only as the suffering servant/Israel and fallen (physically) and rebuilt (spiritually) temple but was also constructed as the ideal new Israel, the personification of the ideal of the new Christian community.

      That concept of the “new Israel” is one I take from Thomas L. Thompson — the story throughout the Bible is reiterated for successive generations: always the narrative presents the failed old Israel as the warning in opposition to the ideal new godly community who are really the readers.

        1. I think he elaborates on the new Israel reiterations more in “The Mythic Past”, also published as “The Bible In History” — for some reason one of these titles was not considered suitable for the American market. (I read it a while ago and found it a very difficult read — and no index! But I stuck with it and think the effort was worth it.)

      1. Perhaps worth noting in addition to Neil’s points is that the interval is about 40 years, a portentous number, being also (among others) the interval between the escape of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and taking possession of the Holy Land. If we follow the logic of “the New Israel” as spiritualized for a diaspora movement, you can see the interval as wandering in the (moral, spiritual) wilderness. And indeed, when the Spirit posseesses Jesus at the baptism in Mark, the first thing it does is drive him into the wilderness where “the wild beasts” (a Danielic echo) are all around.

        1. Yes. I held back from mentioning this because I still have some unresolved questions about that 40 year gap. When do we find the first signs of it being noticed? There is some vagueness about the actual date of Jesus’ crucifixion. Perhaps deliberate. So we can say there were about 40 years between the two events?

          The beginning of Mark is associated with 40 days in the wilderness — the gospel ends in a desolate place, the tombs — images also associated with a wilderness area via the demoniac possessed by Legion.

          Justin Martyr appears not to have known of any gap period between Jesus’ ascension and the destruction of the Temple. I remain uncertain whether he knew our gospels at all despite the many claims he did.

          More questions than answers at this point on this one.

  3. On why in the 30’s instead of the Jewish Wars of the 70’s, are we not looking at a forty year gap? A very significant theological number – years in the wilderness…

  4. There are several possibilities for the times the collection of stories set in. Perhaps it was put a couple of years before the crucial visions of people like Cephas, James, Paul. Perhaps when the stories were historicied they were set in the times of the most villainous rulers in Josephus’ history. Perhaps people played with numerology interpreting significant years out of old prophecies. Maybe other time settings were tried and it was a bit random which one won out.

  5. It would be interesting to try to find out how the author of Mark might have learned the dates of Pilate’s rule. If he had Josephus only to go by, what would he have been able to learn? Would he have known Pilate was governor up to our year 36?

    Would it have been in his interests to have pinpointed a year? Jesus’ message was to watch for the hour is unknown. The disciples were to fall asleep, many of them, just as they had at Gethsemane.

    Was it more important to mark a generation time span than an exact 40 years?

    If all this was written soon after the year 70 it did not become common belief till decades later. Justin writes that the Romans swept in destroying the temple as soon as Jesus had ascended and sent out the twelve. And Justin also said that Jesus was crucified by Herod and the Jews in the time of Pilate. So what sort of historical knowledge did they have?

    But then again Justin does not give us any evidence that he had heard of Paul, either. And if Mark was in Paul’s camp. . . .??

    Sorry, only questions from me, no answers found.

    1. One other little question comes to mind after one reads some of the quirky historical-chronological knowledge of the Fathers. They do not all appear to have as clear idea of when what happened in the past. Is it possible — this will sound weird, but I’ll ask it anyway — that the time setting of Pilate was set a lot closer to the second Jewish War (130s) than we know is correct? It is hard to imagine how this could be possible if any writer knew Josephus. But the only one we can be reasonably sure did know Josephus was Luke, and Luke changes the terms of the prophecy into something that does conform to Josephus’s account more accurately. And Luke may have been finally redacted at the time Acts was written in the mid-second century. But this is all speculation.

      1. Pilate dated to around the 130s? That’s a very long shot Neil….;-)

        As it is dating Pilate to 26/36 c.e. has it’s own problems. While that may be the ‘consensus’ position (Helen K Bond in Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation)Daniel Schwartz, ( Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity: Pontius Pilate’s Appointment to Office) takes up the argument for dating Pilate as early as around 19 c.e.

        What such an early date for Pilate suggests is that the present dating in our canonical gospels for the Jesus story is an update of the story not it’s earliest form. An earlier form of the Jesus story that placed a crucifixion in the 7th year of Tiberius. (21 c.e.) (Acts of Pilate). That ties in with the story of a birth date prior to the 15 th year of Herod the Great (Slavonic Josephus).

        In other words, Neil, it’s backwards we need to go with the Jesus story – not forward to the 130 c.e. time-frame.

        As for the Josephan writer – the TF is placed within a context of 19 c.e. – indicating that Pilate was ruling at that time. (around the expulsion of Jews from Rome). The question then arises – what is the Josephan writer doing with his chronology for Pilate – and Gratus:

        Daniel Schwartz:

        “In any case, it is curious, or suspicious, that, of all seventeen Roman governors of Judaea mentioned by Josephus, only Gratus and Pilate are given data regarding the length of their tenures.”

        And what does this allow for? It allows, by moving Pilate from taking up office in 19 c.e., for the updated Jesus story to be retold in a new time frame of the 15th year of Tiberius. Thus, ‘killing’ off the old, the earlier, version, of the Jesus story.

        1. I didn’t mean to say I think Pilate was thought of as belonging to the 130s. I meant to convey the possibility that the author may not have known of the chronology we are familiar with and that he was unaware of how much of a gap there was between Pilate and the second fall of Jerusalem. There was certainly a full generation in the author’s mind between Pilate and that fall.

    2. Philo: Embassy to Gaius

      “Pilate was one of the emperor’s lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He, not more with the object of doing honour to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod,..”

      Pilate is tied to the rule of Tiberius – the question being what years were involved…..Philo, in Embassy to Gaius, makes mention of Pilate. However, no exact dating is given – but perhaps the inference might be that Pilate ruled late in the rule of Tiberius, i.e. Gaius ruling from 37 c.e. If this is the inference from Philo – then this could well be the first move of Pilate’s rule away from 19 c.e…..and, of course, raises questions of why Philo would do this……Josephus, later, in Antiquities, 95 c.e., giving a more specific, but questionable, time frame for Pilate’s rule.

      1. We have ready access to tools to match or otherwise the various dates in the surviving texts. I wonder how easy it was for every literate person to do it so easily back then. What do we make of Clement of Alexandria’s passage here:

        And after the sixty-two weeks the anointing shall be overthrown, and judgment shall not be in him; and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary along with the coming Prince. And they shall be destroyed in a flood, and to the end of the war shall be cut off by desolations.

        And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the middle of the week the sacrifice and oblation shall be taken away; and in the holy place shall be the abomination of desolations, and until the consummation of time shall the consummation be assigned for desolation.

        And in the midst of the week shall he make the incense of sacrifice cease, and of the wing of destruction, even till the consummation, like the destruction of the oblation.

        That the temple accordingly was built in seven weeks, is evident; for it is written in Esdras. And thus Christ became King of the Jews, reigning in Jerusalem in the fulfilment of the seven weeks.

        And in the sixty and two weeks the whole of Judæa was quiet, and without wars.

        And Christ our Lord, “the Holy of Holies,” having come and fulfilled the vision and the prophecy, was anointed in His flesh by the Holy Spirit of His Father.

        In those “sixty and two weeks,” as the prophet said, and “in the one week,” was He Lord.

        The half of the week Nero held sway, and in the holy city Jerusalem placed the abomination; and in the half of the week he was taken away, and Otho, and Galba, and Vitellius. And Vespasian rose to the supreme power, and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place. And that such are the facts of the case, is clear to him that is able to understand, as the prophet said.

        It looks to me as though Clement found it easier to write up the chronology of events that he knew “must have happened” on the basis of his interpretation of the prophecy of Daniel.

        1. Any which way, Neil, with interpreting Daniel and it’s 70 weeks. National Jewish past-time…..applying prophetic sums to historical events.

          70 c.e. – or 37 b.c. – interpret the Daniel sums to fit the history:

          Josephus’ Jewish War and Its Slavonic Version: A Synoptic Comparison H. Leeming (editor) K. Leeming (editor)

          from page 172

          Immediately the priests started to grieve
          and complain to one another, saying among
          themselves in secret (things)they would
          not dare to say in public because of Herod’s
          For they were saying: ‘The Law forbids us
          to have a foreigner (as) king, but we are
          expecting the Anointed, the Meek One, of
          David’s line. Yet we know that Herod is an
          Arab, uncircumcised. The Anointed One
          will be called meek but this (king) has
          filled our whole land with blood. Under
          the Anointed the lame were to walk,
          the blind to see, the poor to prosper,
          but under this (king) the hale have become
          lame, those who could see have gone blind,
          the rich are beggared.
          But is this (king)the hope of nations?
          We detest his misdeeds, are the nations
          going to hope in him?”
          Alas, God has abandoned us and we are
          forgotten by Him, and he wishes
          to commit us to desolation and ruin,
          not as in the time of Nebuchadnezzar
          or Antiochus! For them the prophets were
          teachers of the people and promised us
          captivity and return. But now there is
          no one to ask and no one to console (us)!
          In reply the priest Ananus told them:
          “I know all the Writings. When Herod was
          fighting in front of the city,
          I never imagined that God would allow him
          to reign over us. But I now understand
          that our devastation is at hand.
          And consider Daniel’s prophecy. For he
          writes that after the Return, the city of
          Jerusalem will stand for 70 weeks of
          years, that is 400 years and 90, and will
          lie waste after those years”.
          And they calculated the years and it was so.

          1. Interesting, MaryHelena. The city of Jerusalem being destroyed (beginning) in 37 BCE at the end of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks (= 490 years). At the end of his sixty-ninth week, Daniel said Messiah would be cut off. 37 BCE minus 7 years gives us 44 BCE, when Julius Caesar was asassinated.

            Interesting coincidence! I think that Franceso Carotta would find this to be very interesting. I am requesting your (and Neil’s) permission: Would you mind if I quote you in my blog?

            Neil — is it okay if I quote maryhelena and reference this post?

            1. Ed

              If you want to use the quote from Slavonic Josephus – it’s available online in the google book view. That is where I got it. I don’t have the book. It’s very expensive.

              As for Daniel’s 70 weeks – the point I was making with that quote is to show that interpreting this prophecy is an open house. Every which way that takes ones fancy. There is no correct way. It’s simply a prophetic template into which one can place ones interpretation of history; ones ‘salvation’ interpretation of history if you like. It’s a work in progress, a framework into which one pastes the historical picture one seeks to create. And if actual history does not quite fit the prophetic template – then one simply adjusts the history to make it fit…

              The city of Jerusalem was not destroyed in 37 b.c. What was destroyed was Jewish national independence. Judea became an occupied territory. It’s last King, the Hasmonean Antigonus, being subject to a double punishment:

              Wikipedia: “Josephus states that Marc Antony beheaded Antigonus (Antiquities, XV 1:2 (8-9). Roman historian Dio Cassius says he was crucified. Cassius Dio’s Roman History records: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him.”[4] In his Life of Antony, Plutarch claims that Antony had Antigonus beheaded, “the first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king.”[5]”.

              Jewish Encyclopedia: “At the suggestion of Herod, who was afraid to allow Antigonus to be taken to Rome in the triumphal train of Mark Antony, lest he should there successfully plead for his rights, this last king of the Hasmonean house was taken to Antioch, and there fell beneath the executioner’s ax. It was the first time that the Romans had ever thus put a king to death. The last king of pure Jewish blood fell before the intrigues of the first king of Judea not entirely of Jewish birth.”

              1. Neil, Maryhelena,

                Thank you for the permissions.


                Yes, I should keep reminding myself of how various parties read what they think is fitting into it. Obviously then Julius Caesar = the Anointed One who will be cut off after the 69 weeks isn’t all cut-and-dried. (538 BCE less 490 years gives us 48 BCE, not 56 BCE when Caesar’s rule in Rome began.)

    3. “Justin writes that the Romans swept in destroying the temple as soon as Jesus had ascended and sent out the twelve. And Justin also said that Jesus was crucified by Herod and the Jews in the time of Pilate.”

      I know of Justin writing that Jesus was crucified by the Jews and Herod in the time of Pilate but I don’t recollect reading anywhere about the Roman Legions coming into J’lem and destroying the Temple immediately after the ascenscion and the sending out of the twelve. If you please, would you direct me to the passage(s)? Thanks!

        1. I found something in Dialogue with Trypho 51 and 52. (emphasis mine)

          And when I ceased, Trypho said, “All the words of the prophecy you repeat, sir, are ambiguous, and have no force in proving what you wish to prove.” Then I answered, “If the prophets had not ceased, so that there were no more in your nation, Trypho, after this John, it is evident that what I say in reference to Jesus Christ might be regarded perhaps as ambiguous. But if John came first calling on men to repent, and Christ, while[John] still sat by the river Jordan, having come, put an end to his prophesying and baptizing, and preached also Himself, saying that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and that He must suffer many things from the Scribes and Pharisees, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again, and would appear again in Jerusalem, and would again eat and drink with His disciples; and foretold that in the interval between His[first and second] advent, as I previously said, priests and false prophets would arise in His name, which things do actually appear; then how can they be ambiguous, when you may be persuaded by the facts? Moreover, He referred to the fact that there would be no longer in your nation any prophet, and to the fact that men recognised how that the New Testament, which God formerly announced[His intention of] promulgating, was then present, i.e., Christ Himself; and in the following terms: ‘The law and the prophets were until John the Baptist; from that time the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. And if you can receive it, he is Elijah, who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

          And it was prophesied by Jacob the patriarch that there would be two advents of Christ, and that in the first He would suffer, and that after He came there would be neither prophet nor king in your nation(I proceeded), and that the nations who believed in the suffering Christ would look for His future appearance. And for this reason the Holy Spirit had uttered these truths in a parable, and obscurely: for,” I added, “it is said, ‘Judah, thy brethren have praised thee: thy hands[shall be] on the neck of thine enemies; the sons of thy father shall worship thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the germ, my son, thou art sprung up. Reclining, he lay down like a lion, and like [a lion’s] whelp: who shall raise him up? A ruler shall not depart from Judah, or a leader from his thighs, until that which is laid up in store for him shah come; and he shall be the desire of nations, binding his foal to the vine, and the foal of his ass to the tendril of the vine. He shall wash his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of the grape. His eyes shall be bright with s wine, and his teeth white like milk.’ Moreover, that in your nation there never failed either prophet or ruler, from the time when they began until the time when this Jesus Christ appeared and suffered, you will not venture shamelessly to assert, nor can you prove it. For though you affirm that Herod, after whose[reign] He suffered, was an Ashkelonite, nevertheless you admit that there was a high priest in your nation; so that you then had one who presented offerings according to the law of Moses, and observed the other legal ceremonies; also[you had] prophets in succession until John,(even then, too, when your nation was carried captive to Babylon, when your land was ravaged by war, and the sacred vessels carried off); there never failed to be a prophet among you, who was lord, and leader, and ruler of your nation. For the Spirit which was in the prophets anointed your kings, and established them. But after the manifestation and death of our Jesus Christ in your nation, there was and is nowhere any prophet: nay, further, you ceased to exist under your own king, your land was laid waste, and forsaken like a lodge m a vineyard; and the statement of Scripture, in the mouth of Jacob, ‘And He shall be the desire of nations,’ meant symbolically His two advents, and that the nations would believe in Him; which facts you may now at length discern. For those out of all the nations who are pious and righteous through the faith of Christ, look for His future appearance.

          It really does look like the Jewish War started right after the death of Jesus Christ, according to Justin. Other Christian traditions like the Acts of Pilate and The Report of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar (or is it Claudius Caesar?) report the exact same thing.

          1. Ed,

            I didn’t see anything in the Acts of Pilate about the Jewish War starting after the death of Jesus (though I may have missed something because my eyes were rolling so much):


            Anyway, as far as Justin goes:

            “He [Jesus] referred to the fact that there would be no longer in your nation any prophet … in the following terms: ‘The law and the prophets were until John the Baptist; from that time the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. And if you can receive it, he is Elijah, who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’”

            This looks like a reference to Mt. 11:12-14. So the question is really, what does Mt. 11:12-14 mean? I think it refers to the general state of revolt leading up to the War that began under Judas the Galilean mentioned by Josephus in Ant. 18.1.1:

            “[T]here [was] one Judas … who, taking with him Sadduc … became zealous to draw them to a revolt … and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty … so men received what they said with pleasure, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height. All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another … whence arose seditions, and from them murders of men … the sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down.”

            As for Justin saying:

            “[A]fter He [Jesus] came there would be neither prophet nor king in your nation … [and] the nations who believed in the suffering Christ would look for His future appearance.”


            “[A]fter the manifestation and death of our Jesus Christ in your nation, there was and is nowhere any prophet: nay, further, you ceased to exist under your own king, your land was laid waste.”

            He derives all this from the OT:

            “[I]t was prophesied by Jacob the patriarch ….”

            And while he does say “after” Jesus came, and “after” he died, he doesn’t say “right after,” only “after,” so I think it’s a stretch to assume Justin means that the War started “right after” the death of Jesus if there isn’t anything else to corroborate it.

            1. Ed,

              I overlooked mentioning that Justin also uses “after” in the excerpt you gave supports my point about its meaning:

              “[Y]ou affirm that Herod, after whose [reign] He [Jesus] suffered, was an Ashkelonite …”

              Since this is a reference to Herod the Great (cf. Eusebius EH 1.7.11), should we suppose he means that Jesus suffered “right after” the reign of Herod the Great, in the reign of Archelaus? No, because in Trypho 103 he mentions the Herod who succeeded Archelaus:

              “And when Herod succeeded Archelaus, having received the authority which had been allotted to him, Pilate sent to him by way of compliment Jesus bound.”

  6. Neil,

    I’m taking a fresh look at whether or not Justin knew the NT gospels, and while he did not know them by the names they have now, I’m completely convinced that he did. This seems obvious enough from Trypho 49, 52, 76, 85, 100, 103, 105, 106, and First Apology 13, 40 and 61. This is as far as I’ve gotten so far, but I’m already convinced.

    That he calls them “memoirs” (and sometimes gospel/s) and doesn’t name them to me only means they didn’t yet have names in his place and time. The idea that there was some other unknown source behind these citations is not convincing. Why imagine something else when what he says is in the gospels (whether individually or a harmony)?

    Consider also that his pupil Tatian created the Diatessaron. How could Tatian have known the NT gospels and not Justin? From what I’ve already seen, I don’t think this issue is a big deal.

    You wrote:

    “Justin also said that Jesus was crucified by Herod and the Jews in the time of Pilate.”

    I’m not finding that to be the case. Trypho 76 says, “And now we, who believe on our Lord Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate…”

    Trypho 85 says he was “crucified under Pontius Pilate by your nation.” Isn’t this is how it is presented in the NT gospels, “Crucify him … His blood be on our heads” (etc)?

    Regarding the Herod question, the only thing I’ve found so far is in Trypho 103:

    “And there [in Egypt] they did remain until Herod, who slew the infants in Bethlehem, was dead, and Archelaus had succeeded him. And he died before Christ came to the dispensation on the cross which was given Him by His Father. And when Herod succeeded Archelaus, having received the authority which had been allotted to him, Pilate sent to him by way of compliment Jesus bound” (and he bases this last part on the OT).

    This looks typical of Justin. He uses the “memoirs/gospel/s” *and* the OT for info about Jesus.

    1. You’ve expressed the general view, possibly the consensus. My own doubts are not allayed, however. I have posted the grounds for my doubts at http://vridar.info/xorigins/justinnarr.htm

      And I do mean “doubts”. I don’t deny Justin knew the gospels. I don’t know. I have reasons to doubt that he did. Maybe I’m wrong. But I have not seen satisfactory answers to the questions that arise from Justin’s conflicting accounts.

      What I am very sure of, however, is that Justin was aware of various narrative interpretations of Jesus that were beginning to appear. There are overlaps with what we read in the gospels and some of those narratives or episodes were picked up and included in some form in the gospels — most likely in the life-time of Justin.

      Yes, Justin says Jesus was crucified “under Pilate”, but never “by Pilate”. Read the Gospel of Peter and we see how that happened. He was crucified by Herod and his Jewish soldiers “under Pilate”. Justin also says Herod was responsible for the crucifixion and that it was the Jews (not Romans) who pierced him.

      You will see on my chart many other “little” anomalies like that.

      As for the “memoirs”, some years ago when studying this in the UQ library I came across a persuasive (to me) argument that the passages with that term express terminology and doctrines different from the rest of Justin’s writings — suggesting they were subsequent scribal entries. I don’t know, but that was certainly one scholarly opinion. Even if not, there are still other questions.

      1. That’s is an interesting chart. I think I’ve seen it before, but since I’m not much of a Justin Martyr guy, I hadn’t considered the implications of it. I will give it some more thought (especially the James infancy gospel), and look at more of Justin concerning Herod’s role in the crucifixion.

        In the meantime, I noticed that Luke 23:7 says that when Pilate “learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time,” which is in accordance with Justin’s “And when Herod succeeded Archelaus, having received the authority which had been allotted to him, Pilate sent to him by way of compliment Jesus bound.”

        Also, while I don’t know what word the Gospel of Peter uses, I did find a translation of “epi” as “under” in 1 Tim. 6:13, where Jesus is said to have given testimony “under Pontius Pilate” (though others generally say “before”), which is not to say that Justin knew 1 Timothy, just that perhaps the expression was something that Justin could have said if he knew the gospels.

        And while I’m not ruling out the possibility that Justin could have known the Gospel of Peter, I have to look into that more before I can say anything about it, beyond that, if he did, then that would simply be another memoir/gospel he knew along with the NT ones.

        1. I Timothy 6:13 has many issues. Read Doherty’s notes at http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/sil20arg.htm for just a start.

          The Gospels basically say Jesus was silent before Pilate but this Timothy passage implies Jesus said more than just a couple of words to Pilate. It is not at all clear that this passage reflects any knowledge of the canonical gospels.

          Justin also speaks of Herod and Pilate conspiring to get rid of Jesus — something quite contrary to the gospels that tell us Pilate was reluctantly pushed into having Jesus crucified.

          That it was King Herod who was responsible for the crucifixion and that it was the Jews themselves who pierced Jesus is made explicit by Justin. This was in the reign of Pilate, whether we say this happened “before Pilate” or “under Pilate”.

          1. Neil,

            To make it easier for me, I divided your chart (in my notes) into things you say are only in Justin and the Protevangelium of James, or only in Justin and the Gospel of Peter, or only in Justin, and I’ve only checked out the latter two so far.

            The only thing else I’ve seen about Herod besides Trypho 103 is in FA 40:

            “And we have thought it right and relevant to mention some other prophetic utterances of David besides these; from which you may learn how the Spirit of prophecy exhorts men to live, and how He foretold the conspiracy which was formed against Christ by Herod the king of the Jews, and the Jews themselves, and Pilate, who was your governor among them, with his soldiers.”

            It still looks like Justin is using a mixture of the OT and the NT gospels. Everything Justin says in FA 40, like Trypho 103, is in Luke 23:

            “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him … That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies. Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us’ … But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man!’ … [and] they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ … [W]ith loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand … and surrendered Jesus to their will … [and] the soldiers led him away.”

            It’s all there. Herod, Pilate and the Jews all conspiring to crucify Jesus (with the emphasis being on the Jews).

            This is how everything else I’ve looked at so far at looks to me, too. If Justin is not citing the memoirs/gospel/s for info about Jesus, he is using the OT.

            And I don’t think Justin knows the Gospel of Peter. To me, whatever commonalities may exist between them are that they both use the NT gospels and the OT.

            Tatian and the Diatessaron are the deciding factor. How probable is it that Justin’s pupil Tatian knew all four NT gospels, perhaps even in a Syriac translation, and enough so to combine them, but not Justin?

            1. That’s fine. As I said, it’s probably the consensus or at least overwhelming majority view. I would have to revisit it in depth to engage in a serious discussion on the details beyond what I’ve already said here. (I’m not suggesting Justin knew the Protevangelium etc by the way — only that he was aware of a range of interpretations that found their way into the various gospels, including the canonical ones.)

  7. I have this dilemma:
    from one side, Roger Parvus, Tom Dykstra and Paul Tarazi have persuased me that the literary Jesus of Mark is Paul or a Pauline figure.
    From the other side, Neil Godfrey, C. Owens, K. Hanhart (whose precious book I cannot prenote from Italy, unfortunately), R. G. Price and others have made a very strong case that Jesus, specially during the Passion narrative, is only an allegory of true Israel that dies (in 70 CE) and rises as de-tribalized gentile nation.

    How can I reconcile these two views?

    It’s difficult, even impossible, to see a ‘Jesus’/Paul on the cross. But is equally difficult, even impossible, to imagine a Jesus thtat is from beginning of gospel of Mark associated with the crucifixion of Israel en masse at 70 CE.

    Then the solution I propose is the following:

    If my premises are both valid, there would be a precise point in Mark where ‘Jesus’ ceases to be an individual (i.e. Paul), and becomes from that moment on forward only allegory of Israel that dies and rises collectively at 700 CE.

    I think I have found that fatidic turining point: the Last Supper. Because it’s during the Last Supper that Jesus becomes letterally and magically, in Mark’s intentions, ”eaten” from his disciples (symbol of Church) even if yet they don’t understand and don’t see. With the Eucharesty, Jesus becomes symbol of a sacred community, not more allegory of Paul.
    And to this end the same ‘Jesus’/Paul alludes criptically by his prophecies about the misterious Son of Man.
    Jesus will become the Son of Man in danielic terms – symbol of ALL Israel that is to come – when he will be ”eaten” from his disciples, becoming one and the same with the true Body of Christ, the true spiritual Israel.

    And once symbol of Israel as Son of Man, ‘Jesus’ realizes all the apocalyptic prophecies of Mark 13 (thanks particularly to Neil for this): he is arrested, is crucified (letterally, at 70 CE), and rises in Galilea of Gentiles.
    I think this is the reason, too, because Matthew and Luke both preserve the Passion narrative of Mark without significant changes: the various Gospel communities, even if they all disagree about the doctrine radically, have surely at least one thing in common. The pretese to represent the Israel that is to come. The true body of Christ.

    If I am right, then it’s possible that the author of Mark vehicles 3 levels of allegory:

    1) to gentile outsiders: the messiah Jesus is historical man crucified under Pilate.

    2) to Jews and followers of Pillars: the message ”we Christian Paulines are the true, unique Israel that survives at ‘crucifixion’ of 70 CE.”

    3) to only insiders: ‘Jesus’ is Paul.

    Only the first 2 levels were comprehensible, at least prima facie, from outsiders, moving Matthew and Luke to correct Mark even if they yet didn’t realize the third and more hidden allegory (because if they realized it, and not oppose as remedy a true more genuine Jesus to the allegorical ‘Jesus’/Paul of Mark, this would be another clue against the historicity of Jesus).

  8. To throw a spanner in the works one can see that the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is also the Daniel Son of Man figure from the outset, such as when he declares as the Son of Man he has the power of God to rule the Sabbath, for example.

    My ideas are exploratory. I expect over time all our ideas will need revisions at some point.

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