Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?

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by Neil Godfrey

William Seymour, founder of modern pentecostalism, and the Azusa Street Revival, are discussed as relevant models by both Hanges and Davies.

I have just completed reading one scholar’s work that does argue that Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek world by means of such a movement and have begun another that argues the same with respect to Jesus.

1. James C. Hanges

James C. Hanges, author of Christ, the Image of the Church and Paul, Founder of Churches, stresses the importance of cultural theory and the evidence for cultural movements in the Greek and Roman world as vital background to understanding Paul’s letters and career.

Wandering “spirit possessed” preachers of the ancient world

One popular stereotype in the era that saw the emergence of Christianity was the “spirit possessed” traveller who would disrupt communities with his bizarre “signs” of the spirit within him, including the babbling of “tongues”, attracting women predominantly to become his followers, and thought to be introducing new gods or unconventional religious observances.

Anyone familiar with that famous fifth century Greek play Bacchae by Euripides will recognize the above character. I had always thought this play was about the conflict that resulted from the introduction of the Bacchic mysteries (or worship of Dionysus) to Thebes. Hanges, however, references scholarship that suggests this surface narrative was originally understood to be representative of the controversies that accompanied the arrival of any (and many) new religious movements to challenge the status quo. 

Another common figure on the cultural landscape of the day was the person who claimed to have been commanded by a god to establish a new base for that god’s worship in the city-state. A new god would at first generally find his/her place in a new city region within a single household. The head of the household (or head of the cult, the one commanded by the god) would only attempt to make the new god open to wider public worship after a time and with care to avoid offending traditional sensibilities as much as possible. This meant the leader would stress both the venerable antiquity of the new god and how much in common there was between him/her and the traditional beliefs in the new community.

Sometimes these servants of the god attempting to widen his worship to the public would face harsh opposition as the more conservative citizens attempted to drive the new cult out or at least back within the walls of the household.

It is not hard to see the story of Paul being shadowed in these common features of the religious life of the Greco-Roman world.

Paul plays catch-up then takes the lead

But how did Paul get started? What led to him reaching out to the gentiles in the first place?

Both the cultural evidence and theory leads Hanges to believe that the “spirit possession” movement was already in existence among both Jews and gentiles before Paul took a lead. Experience shapes our thoughts. It rarely happens the other way around.

Paul struggled to reconcile with his traditional Jewish beliefs the fact that something we would call a “pentecostal” movement had already spread to gentiles. Such a movement, we know well from modern witnesses, quickly and easily crosses social, ethnic, gender, economic divides. But once Paul was forced to acknowledge that the spirit had indeed spread to gentiles he stepped in and took the lead. The theological rationalization followed.

Hanges believes that this scenario makes the best sense of a good number of passages not only in Paul’s writings but also in the book of Acts.

2. Stevan Davies

The other scholar whose newest work I have begun to read is Stevan Davies. The book is Spirit Possession and the Origin of Christianity. Davies argues a quite similar scenario as above but in relation to Jesus; however, he makes the argument from a quite different approach: while Hanges stresses the guidance of cultural theory Davies is more concerned to reconcile the narrative we find in the gospels and Acts with what we know of pentecostal or spirit possession psychology and movements.

Jesus possessed, then Pentecost

According to Davies, Jesus was possessed by “the spirit” at the baptism of John and eventually came to understand that this “possessing spirit” was from God — the Holy Spirit. Opponents, on the other hand, believed it was a spirit from the devil. Jesus used this spirit power to exorcise and to heal. He quickly acquired a sizeable following. To cut the story short (I can post more details later) after Jesus death — or 50 days afterwards to be precise, on Pentecost — Jesus’ followers who had gathered together found themselves able to experience the same spirit possession as they had witnessed in Jesus.

Since Jesus’ body had not been found about 12 hours after being placed in the temporary tomb following his crucifixion it was easy to conclude that this spirit possession experience was being sent by Jesus from heaven and that therefore Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Never before had such an experience been known to a large body of practicing Jews. Until that Pentecost the spirit power was the privilege of only the few isolated prophets, and Jesus. The novelty of it made it all the more heady an experience.

Spilling over before being tamed

Galilee, moreover, where Jesus had his largest following, was not the sort of region to be renowned for its fiercely stringent observance of Judean religious customs. The spirit possession experience as easily crossed ethnic boundaries as it did traditional gender and social divisions.

Only much later were devotees interested in attributing to Jesus some nice ethical sayings and some were concerned to place more emphasis on the meaning of his death than his spirit powers. Again, this is another story for a future post.

Davies, like Hanges, of course believes that his scenario best accounts for much of what we read in the New Testament.

Time to think

I have some questions concerning both of these theories of origins but I won’t distract others at this stage by injecting them here. I’m sure we all would like to think through some of the implications of the above for ourselves first.


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91 thoughts on “Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?”

    1. Hello Neil (and Earl):

      I don’t know how to handle this format to avoid having everything turn into one word long items in a huge list. I’ll try though.

      I can see a problem in the Mythicist lines of thought. If you presume that the biographies of Jesus are entirely fictitious, then it follows that they give no evidence of any historical Jesus. I gather that this follows from the presumption that Paul’s knowledge of Jesus was the norm at his time, and his knowledge is not of any historical person. But then you have an argument from ignorance dominating the whole of the discussion, which is that as Paul does not mention HJ (or so you would argue) therefore he did not know anything of an HJ for surely he would have mentioned Him. The argument rests on the “surely” and that is weak. You can think he might have mentioned him if he knew certain facts about him (which are evidently the sort of facts he was not interested in learning) or that if he were interested in Jesus’ teachings he would have learned them and taught them, but this sort of “he might have” generally derives from a “if I were Paul I would have” and of course that’s not a strong line of argument.

      To continue my standard analogy: if I imagine a lunatic genius Roman Catholic seminarian who at first persecuted the Pentecostal churches but, to his surprise, got the Holyghost and then joined up…. And then wrote letters back to various Pentecostal churches he had founded…. I don’t think that he necessarily will appeal to the life and works of William Seymour or even that he knew anything in particular about Seymour apart from the crucial fact that Seymour got the whole shebang cranked up into operation in 1906 Los Angeles. Similarly, Paul may have only the Christ Mysticism or whatever of Jesus in mind and have no knowledge or interest in Jesus Christ’s points of view. To know that there once was an historical Jesus is not the same as to care about an historical Jesus. There are, by my count, 1,232,646,811 Christians alive today who will assert a belief in the cosmic importance of Jesus Christ and who do not give a damn about the Historical Jesus. Perhaps Paul was the first of them.

      I don’t see that anybody cared about Jesus Christ’s points of view in early decades. Why should they? (You can add a Seymour analogy here.) If we (I and Earl and many others in this discussion) conclude that nothing of substance was preserved of Jesus’ purported Teachings (not Q2, Q3, not added Thomas, not synoptic programmatic material, etc.) and the earliest stuff is problematic anyhow and mainly meaningless (out of context proverbs and parables, for example) then how can we be so convinced that Paul would have had a bank of Jesus teachings to utilize so that his failure to use that resource counts against the very existence of HJ?

      And if we know little of the biography of Jesus, how can we expect Paul to appeal to what we don’t know of, and how can we insist that he knew of things that he didn’t apparently care about anyhow (two weeks in Jerusalem out of 17 years, etc.)?

      There seems to be something contradictory if one insists on the one hand that Jesus was a teacher, based on gospel accounts, while acknowledging that records of His Teaching do not inform us of any program of coherent teachings and perhaps do not inform us of teachings at all. And then to conclude that the absence of teachings points one to an absence of Jesus. No, it points us to the presumption that Teaching was not primarily what he was up to. Heck, you can see that line of thought in Mark 4 (and Mark 8) wherein first Jesus tries not to communicate much of anything and then reacts furiously when his inner circle doesn’t understand anything.

      So Mark doesn’t principally advocate a Jesus the Teacher model, and certainly Paul doesn’t either. And Q1//GTh doesn’t give you much to work with. And so forth. So the model is a pretty poor one. [I wrote about that in Jesus the Healer back in 1994]. Perhaps this is one great flaw in the Jesus Seminar approach (I’m re-reading today Earl’s dissection of Funk’s book), to assume that His Teachings are the main thing that Jesus did.

      If Jesus was a cult founder primarily, even just by chance, i.e. one who assembled a bunch of folks who founded a cult and then retrospectively gave credit to him (cf. Pentecostals and Seymour?) you shouldn’t expect a program of Teachings to be in anybody’s hands. But if there aren’t any Teachings in Paul, you can’t really argue that an absence of Teachings demonstrates an absence of Jesus.


      1. Hi Stevan,

        You may be right on this point:
        …if there aren’t any Teachings in Paul, you can’t really argue that an absence of Teachings demonstrates an absence of Jesus. …

        But the silence of Paul is extended on Jesus’miracles & exorcisms, too:

        Mark 6:3
        “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!

        1 Cor 1:22-23
        Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

        Beyond this, even granting that your Jesus resolves totally the silence of Paul, your logic seems like this:

        1) removed all the impossible, Mark gives us a healer Spirit-possessed.
        2) Spirit-possession is universal among religions.
        3) therefore Jesus did exist.

        But I can apply the same logic to Book of Ruth:

        1) removed all the impossible, the Book of Ruth gives us a love story.
        3) the love is universal among people.
        3) therefore Ruth did exist.

        I may recognize the validity of point 2 of your logic (explaining the Paul’s silence on HJ, too), but it’s expected equally both under the hypothesis of myth and historicity. Even the mythicists recognize that James, Peter, Paul, etc. were all Spirit-possessed from the first (and on their paradigm that was the founder ”Peter”, not a HJ, to play the role of William Seymour in your example: the Pentecostals pray the god ”Jesus”, not the god ”Seymour”).

        What do you think that fact makes more expected a HJ beyond that? I would say that your right conclusion would be Jesus agnosticism, not Jesus historicism… What makes you not a Jesus agnostic but a Jesus historicist, precisely?

        Thanks for any reply,

      2. Hello Stevan,

        “I don’t see that anybody cared about Jesus Christ’s points of view in early decades. Why should they? (You can add a Seymour analogy here.) If we (I and Earl and many others in this discussion) conclude that nothing of substance was preserved of Jesus’ purported Teachings (not Q2, Q3, not added Thomas, not synoptic programmatic material, etc.) and the earliest stuff is problematic anyhow and mainly meaningless (out of context proverbs and parables, for example) then how can we be so convinced that Paul would have had a bank of Jesus teachings to utilize so that his failure to use that resource counts against the very existence of HJ?”

        I don’t see that Formative Q (the tantric-mystic version) is problematic or “mainly meaningless”.
        On the contrary, it makes more sense spiritual-philosophy-wise than all of the writing in the rest of the so-called New Testament combined together. Q1 is very much a complete and comprehensive ideology, even though it is a very compact and will be hard to understand for dry intellectuals with no basic interest in this direction.

        I do find it disappointing that the original author of the so-called Paulines does not directly or in any detail refer to the tantric-mystic contents of Q1. His own ideology of putting the master (“Christ”) at the center of the practices to be followed is however still somehow in line with the ideological thrust of Q1.

        But I find it even more surprising that the authors of Q2 and Q3 seem to completely depart from the ideology of Q1, they show no real interest in it.
        This makes it hard to imagine that there was a real historical cult at the base of Q1, were it not for large sections of the non-passion part of Mark, which confirm the tantric-mystic ideology of Q1 strongly.
        Given that christians show no real or profound interest in the teachings of Jesus and shifted their focus to the passion-myth, you can only explain the tantric nature of the initial behaviour of Jesus and his Q1 as historical.
        Christians would never had made either of them up in this way.

        1. Hello Andries

          Frankly, I think the Q1//GTh sayings of Jesus can mean anything. Since they can mean anything one can impute a depth of meaning to them, a Tantric system to them, a Mormon understanding, a misogynous Catholicism to them or whatever. I suppose that Mark would say they encode some sort of message about the suffering Son of Man and that Matthew would have them insist that all Christians must live as Orthodox Jews should do. And so forth. If you can point to sayings that are clearly Tantric, paralleled in Tantric texts, but not found in other texts, then you are right on. But if you can only say, to me they are this, and somebody else can just as well respond, to me they are that, then they can mean anything anyone prefers. And so, paradoxically, they are meaningless.

          Here’s a question: In Mark chapter 4 there is a parable of the sower.
          We get an explanation from Mark, presumably, that the seed of the sower is allegorical for “logos.” What does “logos” mean in this context? I have no idea, but I suspect most people do know and so I’d like to find out. Bear in mind that I’m asking about the meaning in Mark’s gospel, not something else.


      3. Hi Stevan. You write:

        I can see a problem in the Mythicist lines of thought. If you presume that the biographies of Jesus are entirely fictitious, then it follows that they give no evidence of any historical Jesus. I gather that this follows from the presumption that Paul’s knowledge of Jesus was the norm at his time, and his knowledge is not of any historical person. But then you have an argument from ignorance dominating the whole of the discussion, which is that as Paul does not mention HJ (or so you would argue) therefore he did not know anything of an HJ for surely he would have mentioned Him. The argument rests on the “surely” and that is weak. You can think he might have mentioned him if he knew certain facts about him (which are evidently the sort of facts he was not interested in learning) or that if he were interested in Jesus’ teachings he would have learned them and taught them, but this sort of “he might have” generally derives from a “if I were Paul I would have” and of course that’s not a strong line of argument.

        As for my own perspective (and I think to a large extent Earl’s, too) what you have described here is not the basis for my view that no historical Jesus is needed to explain our gospels or Paul’s letters. You are referring only to one side of part of the argument when you speak of the case of Paul’s Jesus not being explicitly “historical”.

        No, my arguments are not based on ignorance or silence (if we had evidence to break through the apparent ignorance or silence then there would be no Christ Myth debate to begin with: but the silence is not the argument itself.) In fact this is returning to why I have several times expressed discomfort with being seen as a “mythicist” — I don’t really argue that there was no historical Jesus: I argue that our evidence is adequately and more simply explained on other grounds.

        I have not repeated my own arguments in these discussions here in any detail because I have posted on them many times before in depth and they would be difficult to read and follow, I think, in a chain of comments here. As for Earl’s arguments (he argues more explicitly for a mythical Jesus than I do — I do nothing more than argue that the scholarship I read about and sound historical methodology leads to a quite adequate explanation for our evidence without the need for a historical Jesus) they are far more positive and based on the claims that are made than the apparent silences.

        As I attempted to sum up earlier, my own view does not begin with a negative assumption or starting point but with a neutral one. Each side must justify its leap to an assumption of historicity or nonhistoricity. I at no point interpret the gospels on the assumption of silences or non-historicity but do nothing more than follow the arguments for literary intertextuality and historical methodology that are abundant in the peer-reviewed literature.

        Ironically a number of your peers appear to be aware of the implications of their arguments and will even say, despite all the arguments that lead to a contrary conclusion, that they nonetheless do not question the historicity of Jesus. Such a comment, without any basis for support in the arguments — and in fact implicitly made quite irrelevant by the arguments, appears to be a mandatory mantra.

      4. To complete the above thought, Stevan, you wrote:

        But if there aren’t any Teachings in Paul, you can’t really argue that an absence of Teachings demonstrates an absence of Jesus.

        Fully agreed. And this is not my argument. Teachings of Jesus in Paul would perhaps falsify my argument but they are not the basis of it. Establishing mythical trappings to the Jesus in the gospels or theological status to Jesus in Paul’s letters does not at all demonstrate or prove nonhistoricity. I have pointed this out often in my own arguments.

        I read about many historical figures in ancient times and many of them are compared with gods and heroes. I gather you begin with the presumption of historicity, but I do not begin with the presumption of nonhistoricity.

        How should a historian approach any document? That’s where I begin. I even double check with the occasional manual for PhD candidates about to undertake a historical study. (One of my outlines of what I see as the fundamental method is here.) More importantly, I try to analyse and follow the methods of the historians. I cannot help but notice a very striking difference between the way they work and the way historical inquiry is undertaken in historical Jesus research. The latter is fundamentally a circular process. The narrative is assumed to have an historical core despite any lack of independent corroboration and abundant evidence within the narrative itself for it originating as theological creativity.

        Is it the historical Jesus that started Christianity or the beliefs and myths that started it? What answer is reached without going through the hoops of circular argument?

  1. This reminds me of the passage of Galatians 4:14 :

    …and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

    where Paul says (and even Bart Ehrman agrees) he was mistaken by the Galatians with the angel that (probably) possessed him when he visited that community, i.e. ”Christ Jesus”. This raises the question: ” Jesus Christ ” is only the name of the Spirit which possessed the early Christian apostles or ”Jesus” is the name of the first guy who was possessed by the Spirit (and later from his followers identified with him)?

    But we know that Mark ”paulinizes” his Jesus (see Dykstra’s case, for an example of what I call a ”Reductio ad Paulum” in a Gospel) : maybe that only in this way, i.e. seeing the spirit ”Christ Jesus” through the life of man possessed from ”Christ Jesus”, the Christians can remember something about the Spirit himself? This remember the argument of some theists to prove the existence of a trascendent God from his reflection in His beautiful creation: the beauty of world (that is not God) would show that God exists. But why Mark doesn’t write directly about the historical Jesus? What need did he have ”to paulinize” his Jesus to talk about him?

    These are my modest implications, by now.


  2. Each “community” seems to have its own blend of charismatics. The one at Corinth certainly was very “pentecostal.” The one at Rome was more systematic. If authenticity is granted to both epistles for the sake of argument, what would account for the differences between these in such a short time frame?

  3. It is interesting to consider if “The Bacchae” by Euripides may have influenced the New Testament.

    For instance, in Euripides’ “Bacchae” Cadmus says: “Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.”

    In part, maybe the authors of “The Jesus Story” were desperate for (and willing to die for) a better, more moral world, and so they were open to the notion of creating a new God to help achieve that end.

    This would agree with the notion of “The Noble Lie” in Plato’s “Republic.”

    1. Robert M. Price shows in his ‘The Amazing Colossal Apostle’ that the suthor of ACTS used ‘The Bachae’ as a source for the epiphany of Paul. The parts about “not kicking against the goads”, “How can a man contend with a god?” are from the Bachae. Text is available in NOTES in Christian Mythicists and nuskeptix facebook groups. facebook.com/groups/nuskeptix

    1. The possibility that entheogens (hallucinogenic drugs that induce a feeling of spirituality and/or god within a person) were used in the Ancient Middle East has been pursued by a number of other people (though Allegro certainly led the charge in biblical applications). I don’t think that it was the causative agent in the Jesus possession movement any more than it is in modern Pentacostalism. Large-scale use of drugs like that leaves a footprint and wouldn’t have been necessary. It would only have been necessary for a teacher to have used them (perhaps with a few close associates) to learn the mental patterns involved. Then that teacher could have taught his followers to achieve Altered States of Consciousness without them. Buddhist meditation practices seem to have started this way.

      I’m not saying that the hypothetical Jesus achieved his insights through entheogens. It is possible but not necessary. Other routes are at least as likely. On the other hand, I do believe that there is evidence of entheogen use in the area around that time (the OT prophets, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Zoroastrians and their haoma, etc.) so it may have been a factor directly or indirectly.

      1. Thank you. Of all the sources I have hitherto consulted, Clark Heinrich (2002) and Dan Merkur (2000) have been the most suggestive, though no more than that. Psilocybin seems a healthier choice than ergot. The question is whether the altered states of consciousness could have been a factor in convincing visions of Jesus after his execution. Don’t tell me that we’ll never know for certain at this distance in time, I know that already.

  4. Yes. I respect most of Allegro’s writings, but this one is an exception. He is an expert on Aramaic, but his competence in Sumerian has been questioned by specialists in this language whom I have consulted. Nevertheless, there are a number of useful points made in that book that support the view not that Jesus WAS a mushroom, or a vegetation myth, but someone who with his companions may have used the mushroom in shared meals or other activities. The interesting point is whether their use by his bereaved disciples could have given rise to hallucinations of their executed charismatic leader.

  5. Neil, I must have read and made a note somewhere of this important article, as a newcomer to your EXCELLENT site, and apologize for temporary mystification (sic) on another thread.

  6. If prof Davies is right (when he says that when the spirit x enters in a person y, then that person y ceases to be y and becomes the same spirit x in him), then it can be possible to find one explanation of the strange enigmatic mention of Josephus about a certain, anonymous ”Jew”.

    For example, so prof Adamczewski:

    In particular, Josephus refers to the activity of a certain Jew who escaped to Rome because he had been accused of transgressing some laws, who pretended to explain
    the wisdom of the laws of Moses, who worked with a missionary team of three
    other persons, who was active among proselytes belonging to a high-ranking
    Roman family, and who used for his own needs the money that should be collected
    for the Jerusalem Temple (Ant. 18.81-84). It is not difficult to detect in this enigmatic story the features of Paul’s activity in Rome (cf. e.g. Phlp 3:3.20; 4:10.14.22).

    It should be noted that Josephus’ attitude towards Jewish Christians seems to have been
    generally positive or at least neutral (Jos. Ant. 20.200-203). On the other hand, the missionary-financial activity of Paul and his followers among the members of high-ranking
    Roman families who were sympathetic to the Jews seems to have been strongly condemned by the Jewish-Roman historian (Ant. 18.65-84).

    (Constructing Relationships, p. 27)

    Robert Eisenman, too, sees in this ”Jew” a reference to Paul, so too in Josephus’ reference to that ”Jew” that aimed to persuade the mother of Izates to disregard circumcision.

    Now, thanks prof Davies’ theory of spirit possession, I can realize why Josephus is strangely silent about Paul (under hypothesis that the ”Jew” in question in both cases is very the man called Paul).

    When he preached to a public uditory, Paul ”ceased” to be Paul because he became ”Jesus”, since the spirit of angel Jesus ”entered” in him (the possession phenomenon, see Gal 4:14).
    His followers believe that the man before them is not more Paul, but the same angel Jesus that possessed him.
    External and more objective observer could realize that Paul was always Paul, even when he ”became” the angel Jesus during his abitual hallucination.
    But Josephus was not direct witness and therefore he listened two apparent inconsistent info about Paul/”Jesus”: that he was named Paul and that he was named ”Jesus”. In doubt, he choosed to assign the anonimity to Paul.

    Little my experience: before that I listened from Richard Carrier about the analogy Joseph Smith/Moroni etc, I thought that Joseph Smith and Moroni were (more or less) one on the same person, therefore it would be natural for me alluding to them with the expression ”a certain guy”.

    P.S. Mark didn’t use the expression ”a certain Jew” to allude to Paul, but the construct ”the son of man”.

    1. What is not yet clear in my mind is the nature or appearance of the person at the time they are identified with, say, “Jesus”. I had originally thought Davies was saying that in this state the person is speaking in tongues or in some sort of trance; if so, then I find it difficult to picture a person in this state, claiming this identity, communicating anything as if in normal discourse with other figures as Josephus seems to describe.

      1. Hi Neil,

        I share your difficult to picture this, but you remember that Paul was accused of diabolic possession from Pillars & co. This is reflected in Mark when we read that ”Jesus” was accused to be possessed from Belzebul. Today we call these accuses pure ”defamations” (i.e. the first people that don’t believe to them were just the accusers, i.e they really didn’t believe that Paul was possessed from evil demon), but until which point we can call them in this way and failing to see the degree of ”truth” of these attacks according to their historical authors?

        Ask you why, If Paul was accused to be ”demon-possessed”, you can find it easy (and not difficult) ”to picture a person in this state, claiming this identity, communicating anything as if in normal discourse with other figures as Josephus seems to describe.” Today the Christians think that the ”Anti-Christ” will act just like that.

    1. I don’t know why this question, but I’m happy to reply equally.
      I remember from Eisenman that the josephian Izates becomes in Acts the etyoph eunuch.
      Anyway, Luke uses Josephus because was Mark before Luke to use Josephus.

      Besides, the idea that the transliterated Hebrew word corban (korbàn), which means a sacrificial offering, should be semantically identified with the word ‘gift’ (dòron), as Mark suggested in the statement: ‘corban, that is a gift’ (korbàn, o estin dòron: Mk 7:11), is somewhat surprising. In fact, this semantic identification was directly borrowed not from the Septuagint (which does not use the transliterated word korbàn: cf. Lev 1:2 LXX et.c) but from the work of Josephus, who stated thta ‘corban… this means gift in the language of the Greeks’ … Ant. 4.73)
      (B. Adamczewski, The Gospel of Mark, p. 96-97)

  7. The question was asked because of its relevance to the date and credibility of Luke-Acts, but an archive search has shown me that Neil has already scored an A* for his essay on the subject. The work of Richard Pervo needs to be consulted, and to be fair alongside responses like e.g. bibleapologetics.wordpress.com/2011/04

    I have read Eisenman on the Dead Sea Scrolls “cover-up” and tried to wade through the bizarre prose of his tome on a New Testament “code” that rivals Thiering’s. He seems to support the notion that James was the companion on the long road to Emmaus whom Luke possibly refused to name in the “Pauline” interest. It relates to the suggestion that James had a special resurrection encounter which transformed him into the pillar of the Jerusalem congregation. That particular story reminds me of modern phantom hitch-hiker anecdotes, and as an ancient “urban” myth has its pagan parallels.

    I appreciate Eisenman’s comments on the “James ossuary” and will get round eventually to trying to read more from him on the actual/historical blood brother of the supposedly mythical/non-existent Jesus.

    He has an agenda, indicated by e.g. his reference to Simon Peter as “antisemitic”. Whereas some ancient Jews regarded Jesus as a false prophet, an evil mamzer who led Israel astray through alien magic, more than a few modern Jews regard him as their greatest son, a rabbi misappropriated by evil Gentiles, whose blasphemous and supercessionist “testament” and subsequent theology resulted ultimately in the extermination of six million men, women and children.

    Whereas Alfred Rosenberg regarded Paul as Shaul, the first Jewish Bolshevik, Hyam Maccoby regarded him as Solon, the first Gentile Nazi. We must all try hard to free scholarly inquiry from gross political prejudices, but it admittedly ain’t easy.

  8. 1. Do we really have provenance with Josephus? What sort of document source, Medieval?
    2.Just mentioning in light of David Ashton’s great comment above that I’m writing ‘Magic Jesus’, announced on fb. I’ll create some buzz here on G+ when I have time. In it I will support my conclusion that the killing of mythic Jesus actually played the greatest role in the holocaust. James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword has been a source for me.

  9. I made a list some time last year, recently extended, of many Jewish, Christian and other writers who have blamed “The Holocaust” on the New Testament, and sent it to several writers, including a decent, sincere and well-read clergyman, whose support for the Palestinians against “Christian Zionists” has now led, at the behest of the Jewish Board of Deputies, to the Church of England placing a complete ban on any future reference whatever by him in speech or writing on anything to do with the Middle East, including its history (!), on pain of enforced resignation from his church and status. He appears to have agreed to a complete ban on expressing his own opinions, defending himself, or even raising the matter of free speech permitted to other clergymen.

    Does Never Again mean Forever In Control?

    The interactive relationship between Jews and Christians is historically quite complex, although Jews have been on the receiving end of atrocious acts of violence (often condemned or frustrated by church authorities). The Nazi persecution may have exploited “Christian” themes but the leadership and ideology were hardly Christian, and both Catholics and Protestants also experienced ideological attack and petty persecutions. Have a look at the Papal Encyclical “Mit brennender sorge…” It might also be worth looking directly at the so-called “Holocaust Denial” phenomenon as presented by its few reasonably competent spokesmen like Carlo Mattogno (on-line). Discussions of documentary evidence and eye-witness reliability are not confined to events hundreds of years ago.

    1. If you’ve ever seen ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ you might extrapolate the Jewish holocaust’s cause. No one was guilty because everyone was guilty. The truth is no one gave a damn about the Jews who had been hated for two millennia, maligned in every mythical manner , and, verbally crucified by many such as Luther. the Pope saved “converted Jews”- (1939? concordat) from Nazi Germany’s predominantly Christian population. That was a green light for some. The Protestants, (who greatly outnumbered Nazis, BTW), and other Germans alternately oppressed and tolerated the Catholics.
      Luther’s ‘On The Jews And Their Lies'(excerpt). Hitchens was right when he said The Nazis took a page from Luther’s playbook.-(paraphrase), except that he should have said “the Christians”. The United States knew of the death camps in 1942. Though the Geneva Accords forbid bombing the camps, a president might have caused such an event, or a similar event to occur. The U.S President is the sort of alpha male who will show enemies who wears the pants in The First Family. And by alpha male I mean Hillary Clinton.
      I’ve heard the weak defense of ” the leaders weren’t Christians”. Did you check the demographics, or, shall I? THNX

      * * *

      …but then eject them forever from this country. For, as we have heard, God’s anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!
      * * *

      Over and above that we let them get rich on our sweat and blood, while we remain poor and they such the marrow from our bones.
      * * *

      I brief, dear princes and lords, those of you who have Jews under your rule­­ if my counsel does not please your, find better advice, so that you and we all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews, lest we become guilty sharers before God in the lies, blasphemy, the defamation, and the curses which the mad Jews indulge in so freely and wantonly against the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, this dear mother, all Christians, all authority, and ourselves. Do not grant them protection, safe­conduct, or communion with us…. .With this faithful counsel and warning I wish to cleanse and exonerate my conscience.
      * * *

      Let the government deal with them in this respect, as I have suggested. But whether the government acts or not, let everyone at least be guided by his own conscience and form for himself a definition or image of a Jew.
      * * *

      However, we must avoid confirming them in their wanton lying, slandering, cursing, and defaming. Nor dare we make ourselves partners in their devilish ranting and raving by shielding and protecting them, by giving them food, drink, and shelter, or by other neighborly
      * * *

      Therefore we Christians, in turn, are obliged not to tolerate their wanton and conscious blasphemy.
      * * *

      Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death.
      * * *

      What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

      First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it ­ will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

      Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

      Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. (remainder omitted)

      Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17 [:10 ff.]) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: “what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord.” Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people’s obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16 {:18], “You are Peter,” etc, inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.

      Fifth, I advise that safe­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home. (…remainder omitted).

      Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God’s blessing in a good and worthy cause.

      Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3[:19]}. For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.
      * * *

      But what will happen even if we do burn down the Jews’ synagogues and forbid them publicly to praise God, to pray, to teach, to utter God’s name? They will still keep doing it in secret. If we know that they are doing this in secret, it is the same as if they were doing it publicly. for our knowledge of their secret doings and our toleration of them implies that they are not secret after all and thus our conscience is encumbered with it before God.
      * * *

      Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death. My advice, as I said earlier, is:

      First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss in sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. That would demonstrate to God our serious resolve and be evidence to all the world that it was in ignorance that we tolerated such houses, in which the Jews have reviled God, our dear Creator and Father, and his Son most shamefully up till now but that we have now given them their due reward.
      * * *

      I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, to see whether this might not help (though it is doubtful). They must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in, proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying three thousand lest the whole people perish. They surely do not know what they are doing; moreover, as people possessed, they do not wish to know it, hear it, or learn it. There it would be wrong to be merciful and confirm them in their conduct. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God’s wrath and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated. ”
      * * *

      My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew) with enough material not only to defend himself against the blind, venomous Jews, but also to become the foe of the Jews’ malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils. May Christ, our dear Lord, convert them mercifully and preserve us steadfastly and immovably in the knowledge of him, which is eternal life. Amen.

      Sources: Internet Medieval Sourcebook; From Luther’s Works, Volume 47: The Christian in Society IV, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971). pp 268­293.

        1. Difficult to comment without reference to Mr Robinson’s key theme and motive, so please cancel whatever your editorial discretion requires.

          Editorial discretion has indicated fading hopes of the editor by greying of the font . . .

          1. JOSEPHUS. Worth considering is the discussion provoked by Robert Eisler, “The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist” (1931) on the Slavonic Josephus.

          2. LUTHER. I noted the “ravings” of both Luther and Chrysostom when complaining on another website about the recent suppression of Rev Stephen Sizer’s opinions on Middle Eastern history and “Christian Zionism”. For the relevance of Luther’s change of attitude, because of “usury” and “defamation” of Mary, see e.g. Albert Lindemann, “Esau’s Tears” (1997) pp.38-39.

          3. GERMAN CHRISTIANITY. See e.g. Rabbi David Dalin, “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope” (2005), J. S. Conway, “The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-1945” (2001), Rainer Bucher, “Hitler’s Theology” (2011) & Klaus Scholder, “A Requiem for Hitler” (2008).

          4. NAZISM. My private library of over 3000 books and documents includes substantial sections on totalitarian ideologies and religions, WW2, nearly 50 on the Shoah by historians and survivors (including just 4 “revisionists”). As I cannot recall any statistics therein about practicing Christians running “death camps”, Mr Robinson’s own proposed investigation would be welcome.

          5. FURTHER RESEARCH. Jonas Alexis, “Christianity & Rabbinic Judaism”, 2 vols (2012 & 2013) could provide an ideal focus for criticism from Mr Robinson and others (leaving aside its easy targets of fundamentalism and eugenics).

          6. “ANTI-SEMITISM”. This complex and explosive subject can hardly be discussed at length on this particular site. Hercule Poirot, however, may have wondered why they “all” did it, i.e. why the “longest hatred” has been expressed by Christians, Muslims, pagans and atheists, often in comparable terms. My view is that it has arisen primarily from the predicament of a gifted people without a national homeland, dispersed across the homelands of other nations, with interactive friction aggravated in medieval Europe by the churches’ “replacement” theology; and post-WW2 by Zionist-Islamist conflict over Arab areas. In addition to standard apologetics (Poliakov, Katz, Wistrich, Cohn-
          Sherbok, &c &c), a thorough and balanced assessment would take on board relevant studies by, at least: Peter Schaefer (Talmud), Richard Lynn (IQ), Joshua Trachtenberg (the Devil), Simone Borgstede (Disraeli), Julius Carlebach (Marx), Jerry Muller (Capitalism), Andre Gerrits (Communism), De Michelis (Protocols), Avi Shlaim (Israel & Palestine), Bernard Lazare, and even Kevin MacDonald.

          7. LEGENDS. For an instructive similarity between the gradual “accretion” of material in stories about “Christ” and “Holocaust”, read (on-line) Carlo Mattogno, “Auschwitz: The Case for Sanity” (2010) Vol.2, pp.541-562.

          8. GENOCIDE. The murder of Jews has not been the only “democide” in history. From the Old Testament to the present day, when persecution, massacre and terror sadly continue, “religion” is still often a factor. The 20th-century Soviet and Maoist victims were considerable in number and suffering, though not considered deserving of frequent on-going media treatment

            1. Hi Phil, Unfortunately I don’t know how to answer your question beyond a few general comments at the moment. The earliest manuscripts of Josephus may be quite late but we do have evidence that Josephus’s writings were known in antiquity. We have the “Church Fathers”; I cannot recall if we also have any non-church historian also yielding evidence of knowing a work of Josephus. Further, the nature of Josephus’s work is consistent with the historiography of the Roman era. I would need to do much more study to be able to further know how much of his content has been independently verified.

              I’m not sure if this is directly responding to your question. Or have I misunderstood what you were asking?

              1. That’s good info, & thanks. The oldest document of Josephus I’ve heard of, is 1100– Medieval, as in medieval forgery, & contains the famous “Jesus interpolation”. But my knowledge is indeed limited, & I welcome correction. I understand the early church figures, Justin, Irenaeus, & others may have given decent 2nd hand accounts, enough to recreate all or most of his history of the Jews. Not sure they’re exactly Church fathers, though. That can be tricky.

              2. Thanks, Neil. Copying this to facebook.com/groups/nuskeptix. Fitzgerald did a fine job of debunking the TF in ‘Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That prove Jesus never Existed At All’. His translation seems to differ a bit from those of apologists’ I’ve seen. Maybe we can ask Randal Rauser about that when we hold the EXISTENCE OF GOD & EXCLUSIVE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY discussion with Raph Lataster in May/Jun on nuskeptix webcast.
                A point I need to revisit in wikipedia is just who is and who isn’t an official church father as opposed to an early apologist or heresyologist (sp?).

          1. No, no, I don’t oppose the arguments per se. . . . I hate deleting stuff …. I find the whole question wrought with complexities that leave me indecisive and inconsistent, sorry. Especially after five hours sleep on a Saturday morning.

            My thinking was that the Slavonic manuscript is still relatively late but I may be missing the point intended.

            1. While we cannot affirm with certainty that Josephus made no reference whatever to Jesus, we cannot use TF passage with assurance either. Christian motivations for total forgery of the Slavonic material about a militant rebel are problematic, but it is just possible that there are irretrievable grains of truth in the bizarre dross.

              See e.g. Solomon Zeitlin, “The Hoax of the ‘Slavonic Josephus’,” The Jewish Quarterly Review (October 1948); Ernst Bammel & C.F.D. Moule (eds) “Jesus and the Politics of his Day” (1985), esp. pp.32-37 & 190-194; Robert E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament” (2000), pp.85-88 & 94-98.

              I hoped my select bibliography on less ancient matters would assist Mr Robinson and possibly interest others.

              1. Thanks also to David Ashton for his cordial informata. I was into it with a lady I met on the bus this morning who even knows the (bloody??) Shroud Of Turin is authentic. 🙂

  10. Seeing how Mark is deeply indebted to Paul’s letters much more than it is Mcn, arises really the suspect that Mark had insisted in his paulinizing Jesus beyond measure (I would define it almost an obsession, and therefore a deliberate, radical ”Reductio ad Paulum”) for the clear purpose to claim for itself the legacy of the Apostle Paul and remove it from Marcion. Paulinizing Jesus more than did Marcion, to the eyes of Mark, seems almost first of all a deliberate way to convince himself, ”Mark”, that yes, the apostle Paul was truly the legitimate precursor of the Gospel of Mark, and not of the Gospel of Marcion.

    Only in this way I could be able to explain the almost obsessive way with which Mark reduces almost every time his Jesus to an action, a doctrine or a passing thought made earlier by Paul in his letters. If the markan Jesus is extremely repetitive in his doing always an action that alludes allegorically to Paul, then Paul himself in turn becomes more firmly anchored in the field of Mark in opposition to that of Marcion.

    If this ”Reductio ad Paulum” operated by Mark is not seen as a reaction to Marcion (as a way to contend the legacy of Paul with the ”wolf of Pontus” Marcion) or to a simonian proto-Mark (as thinks Roger Parvus), then scholars will find themselves in trouble in the vain attempt to explain it otherwise.

    Mark, proving to love Paul more than Marcion with his exaggerated reduction of his Jesus to Paul, so betrays its intention to co-opt Paul removing it from the hands of Marcion.

    The so-called ”criterion of embarrassment” should be applied to authentic obsession by which Mark reduces his ”Jesus” to Paul in order to grasp how he is struggling over the legacy of Paul against Marcion, and not to recover evanescent traces of a ”historical Jesus”.


  11. I concluded the above post with a comment that I was refraining from raising specific questions about the theses presented. I have since asked them at the BC&H discussion forum and post them again here:

    The “spirit possession” explanation for Christian origins

    Stevan Davies in Spirit Possession and the Origin of Christianity argues that Jesus began his career as a spirit possessed healer and exorcist, attracted a following of others susceptible to the same sort of spirit possession (involving “pentecostal” experiences), and that after his death, 50 days after his death to be precise (Acts 2), these followers themselves experienced the same state of possession/alternative consciousness.

    Their conclusion was that Jesus must have sent his own gift to them from heaven; therefore Jesus was still alive. He must have risen from the dead. After all, half a day after his body was placed temporarily in a wealthy person’s tomb it was no longer found there.

    That, I think, in a nutshell is Davies’ theory. If anyone who has read the first chapter of his book wants to improve on this outline please do so.

    Davies’ refers to the famous beginnings of modern pentecostalism initiated by William Seymour.

    Coincidentally I have been reading James Hanges who argues something quite similar in relation to Paul. He also draws upon the Seymour history. But the difference with Davies’ theory is that the followers of Paul also shared the ecstatic experiences under his leadership, or even preceded Paul with their gift.

    My question is this: What instances are there of a spirit possessed charismatic or glossolalist who attracts followers who do not share his gift the whole time they are with him/her but only do so for the first time only after they lose contact?

    I subsequently added

    Just to clarify, neither Davies nor Hanges suggests that the pentecostal type of experience (ASC) began with Seymour. The 1906 events are used as a case study of how from such a small beginning a very large movement of millions can grow — and across different religious divides — without there having been anything remarkably astonishing about the founder himself.

    In the back of my mind I keep hearing echoes of having read something like “The scholars of that generation interpreted something in the Bible such and such a way because they were influenced by “these particular events” in their own life-time.” That’s not to say contemporary events are not really useful — after all, human nature is surely a constant throughout all history — but it does make me want to be a bit cautious.

    I later spelled out more details of difficulties that came to my mind

    Reading through Davies’ book I think now that the problem is more complex than I had initially thought.

    In Davies’ scenario John the Baptist is a prophet and that means, by definition, he has moments of spirit possession or ASC.

    But there is only one person who receives the same gift of this spirit possession after John’s baptism, Jesus.

    Yet the argument goes that John was creating conditions for the reception of this spirit. He was preaching a message designed to tear down any sense of self-worth in his hearers to enable them to receive a transformation as a forgiven and new person.

    John was also preaching that one day in the future God would give the same spirit that possessed him to those who repented and were baptized.

    So we have the scenario of a spirit possessed preacher declaring that all who were baptized by him would also receive the same spirit possession experience but not yet — even though the preaching of John was designed to put followers in a mental state ready for ASC.

    Yet only one person jumped the starter’s gun and was possessed at the moment of baptism.

    Moreover, this person was confused about the nature of their spirit possession experience. This person was driven into the wilderness and struggled with the idea that he might be possessed not by God’s spirit but by a demon.

    It took some time for Jesus to be assured he had God’s spirit and not that of a demon. This despite, apparently, receiving the same spirit that possessed John and that John had been predicting for his followers.

    I think a much more plausible scenario, one that accords with what we know of human experience, would be that many of John’s followers were enjoying the ASC experience from the moment they were baptized. Can we really think that John’s preaching was designed to prepare them psychologically for an event in the indefinite future, but that this psychological experience at the time of baptism also delivered people from self-loathing and into a new state of forgiveness and confidence — all without (prior to) the spirit coming upon them — and then some time later (one or three years later) 50 days after the death of Jesus they were suddenly possessed then?

    I think Davies’ theory runs aground by attempting to reconcile and rationalize too many details in the gospels to accord with some sort of historical reality. The result of attempting to “save the scriptures” is a scenario that is quite unlike what we would expect of historical reality.

    Anyone who has read Davies and thinks I have mis-stated his position please let me know.

    Finally someone raised an online audio interview in which Davies seemed at one point to suggest that there were no other spirit possession cults in the days of Jesus

    Maybe we don’t have evidence of them among the Jews of Palestine (though we do read about them in the OT, “sons of the prophets”) but we do know about them elsewhere. Roman conservatives deplored them; the Greek play Bacchae was about them and still influential at the time the NT works was written.

    And some minutes later he says that it was now “for the first time in the history of humanity” we have people (not Jews) being possessed by the spirit, breaking class and gender barriers etc. Simply not so, surely.

    And Davies further acknowledges that Galilee was not subject to anything like the same “rabbinic Judaism” ambiance we associate with Judea, so if one assumes such a Galilean provenance then one would think it would be natural to conclude an ASC movement originating with with communities of both gentiles and Jews.

  12. Hi Neil

    I think most of what you have written summarizing my recent book “Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity” is well done and quite right. But I’d like to clarify my views on John the Baptist. The basic view is that we know practically nothing about John the Baptist. It does make sense to think that Jesus came to John at the Joradan for baptism in respect to His sins and, spontaneously, found himself possessed by a holy spirit. But I don’t particularly think John intended this to happen or that John had much to do with Jesus beforehand or afterward.

    However… there are odd bits of evidence here and there. For example, Herod is said to have thought Jesus was John the Baptist because of the powers working in Him… after John is dead. Christians came to conclude that John was Elijah (a precedent figure to the Christ, so somebody had to be Elijah). Elijah gave his divine spirit to Elisha at the Jordan (2 Kings 2:7-15) and subsequently Elisha went off and did miracles. Among those miracles was the feeding of a hundred men with a mere twenty loaves, 2 Kings 4:42-44; this story is clearly the inspiration for the twice repeated miraculous feeding story in Mark (and Matthew and Luke and John). So in the mind of somebody or other, Jesus was // Elisha and in the mind of Mark? And Matthew (11:14) John was Elijah. So if Jesus receives John’s spirit in the Jordan and if we presume the standard possession theory that you become (temporarily) the spirit that possesses you, then Jesus became John by receiving John’s spirit or, if John is Elijah, then Jesus became Elijah by receiving John/Elijah’s spirit, or if John is Elijah and Elijah gave his spirit to Elisha then Jesus became Elisha. Now, I’m just pointing out all this interesting stuff, not making any particular point.

    But back in the day Herod, or at least Mark’s Herod (6:14-16), and people known to Jesus’ disciples, i.e. Mark’s version of them, were thinking of Jesus as John the Baptist or as Elijah (Mark 8:28). And it was evidently the case that folks were putting forth the view that Jesus was Elisha-like in his miracle working ability, at least in terms of feeding multitudes.

    What do I think? I think John was a preacher of apocalyptic disaster who offered a repentant-baptism and Jesus came to take advantage of it. Jesus, spontaneously, to his and John’s surprise, was overtaken by a spirit (dissociative personality replacement experience). Subsequently Jesus went his own way and John went his. But since Jesus had received his spirit from John in the Jordan, the Elijah parallel suggested itself and was reinforced by the necessity of somebody having to be Elijah if we are to claim that Jesus was the Messiah.

    Stevan Davies

    1. I respect your having researched at length, Stevan Davies. I am a Christ Mythicist, however, & am reading Robert M. Price’s ‘Killing History” presently, a rebuttal to Bill O’Reilly’s /Dugard’s apparently naive Jesus history ‘Killing Jesus Christ’. My problem with your conclusion of historicity above is that we find no real person Jesus in the gospels. Also Paul seems to be getting his Jesus info from a hallucination or something. Paul does seem to fit a psychotypal personality.
      Jesus seems this amalgam of cultic symbology in the gospels stitched together by different authors not quite understanding the nuances of the foregoing authors, and so contradicting them on various points.
      Price holds that John’s cult is being co-opted by the Jesus cult & that John was inciting war on taxes via rebellion against Rome. Certainly such rebellion & economic concerns are present.
      What do you think of Price’s view as I’ve represented minimally above?

    2. Stevan,

      Regarding the relationship between John the Baptist and the Markan Jesus: Some scholars have argued that the present form of gMark is a revision of an earlier form of it; that there was a proto-Mark. So I am wondering if John could have been missing from the earlier version and was subsequently brought into it by a follower of his who wanted to align the Markan Jesus more closely with John? With that same goal in mind, the reviser could have put some sayings of John into the Markan Jesus’s mouth. This might explain why, according to a number of scholars, there are Q sayings already in gMark. They propose that one version of the Q doublets in gMatthew and gLuke is drawn from Q and the other from its use in gMark. This would seem to mean that gMark represents the initial Q-ification of Christ, a process that was of course taken much further by the other two synoptic evangelists. And if Q arose within John’s movement, gMark’s revision would represent the first stage of in effect bringing John’s voice back from the dead by means of the Markan Jesus.

      Do you have any thoughts you care to share about the possibility of a proto-Mark? And to you does John’s presence in gMark seem to fit seamlessly?

      1. Hi Roger

        Although I dedicated my Jesus the Healer Book (i.e. the first edition of “Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianty”) “to the Memory of Morton Smith” who purportedly found what is called The Secret Gospel of Mark, I don’t see any good means to argue that the consensus of present scholarship that Smith invented that Secret Gospel is wrong. (There’s a complicated sentence for you!).

        I don’t see reason to doubt that the Mark version we have is the original. There is, after all, hardly anything about John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark aside from the Baptism scene and the weird references to people of His time identifying Jesus with the late John.

        Mark does emphasize the apocalyptic side of Jesus in chapter 13, and that’s prominent in early Q material and presumably also in John’s apocalyptic preaching. But in all cases apocalyptic preaching that simply warns of the horrors to come doesn’t do much to establish viable long lasting communities. Pretty soon you do need something else and the apocalyptic will just fade away. (So William Miller’s apocalypticism became the Seventh Day Adventists)

        I don’t know if Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, even though there’s early evidence he was, because the accounts of that preaching are just completely chaotic. Is the Kingdom of God a reign of love and goodness or it is like thermonuclear war? Is it like the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom on the Day of the Son of Man, or is that horrific day something else entirely? How exactly do you get into the Kingdom? Why in heaven’s name would anybody be cheered up by the idea of a bunch of galilean workmen (including Iscariot) judging the Twelve Tribes? And what does Judging even mean there?

        And when the evidence is so muddled, it indicates to me that if Jesus did say that sort of thing, it wasn’t his saying it that made him important. I mean, if the best that John or Jesus could do is to go about being apocalyptic warners, that’s not what gave rise to important rapidly spreading Jesus or John communities among the world of gentile folks.

        In the first half of Mark’s gospel, we are told that Jesus predicted the Kingdom of God, but we aren’t really told anything interesting about it. Indeed, we are told that Jesus went around preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons as if the casting out of demons was the principal content of his preaching.

        Also, why would people hypothesize a fictional illegitimate Galilean tekton exorcist to do the heavy lifting to bring John’s voice back from the dead? I don’t see the propagandistic advantage of that? Why would they think that a good idea?

        1. Hi Stevan,

          I wasn’t thinking of Morton Smith in particular, but of other scholars before him who argued on various grounds that there was a proto-Mark. Like you, I am suspicious of Smith’s supposed find.

          In any case, as you point out, the explicit references to John in gMark are few. But, again, this could just be because its author was the pioneer who came up with the idea of remaking the Markan Jesus into another John. The authors of gMatthew and gLuke followed that lead, giving John more express attention. Also to be kept in mind are the Elijah references in gMark which, as you pointed out in your earlier comment, may have John in view. Clare Rothschild writes that the “understanding of John the Baptist as Elijah pervades the Gospel of Mark.” And she argues that “Although the view is common that an Elijah typology determines Mark’s presentation of John in the beginning of this gospel… this characterization is brought to a climax in the center of the gospel at the transfiguration and even occurs elsewhere (Mk. 6:15; 8:29; 9:11). These references to the Baptist as Elijah in the beginning, middle and end (Mk. 15:34-37) of Mark function as a sub-structure over which the ministry of Jesus is superimposed” (Baptist Traditions and Q, p. 170).

          John/Elijah not only functions as the sub-structure for the Markan Jesus but—if Rothschild is right about Q originally being a collection of Baptist traditions—he was also a substantial source of that figure’s teaching. Rothchilds notes that “Q parallels in Mark are primarily of two kinds: (1) narrative explicitly related to the Baptist; and (2) sayings concentrated after the transfiguration account in Mk 8-12. If, as argued above, current models of Q suggest it was a source of Baptist traditions, and if the author of the Second Gospel knew this, then the concentration of Q parallels in Mark after the transfiguration scene may be deliberate: the risen John descends from heaven with Moses to sanction Jesus as successor, formally inaugurating Jesus’ appropriation of John’s well-known teachings for his own teaching ministry” (pp. 170-171).

          You ask: “Why would people hypothesize a fictional illegitimate Galilean tekton exorcist to do the heavy lifting to bring John’s voice back from the dead?”

          You may have provided a good answer yourself to that just a few sentences earlier: “But in all cases apocalyptic preaching that simply warns of the horrors to come doesn’t do much to establish viable long lasting communities.” That is to say, John’s apocalyptic community may have pretty much died out by the end of the first century. It was Paul’s version of Christianity that proved viable for the long run. That could not have been an easy fact for any surviving admirers of John to accept, especially if they viewed Paul’s version as defective in some way(s).

          Canonical Mark could be the first attempted correction of a proto-Mark that was purely Pauline. That could explain the muddled evidence you noted, and the chaotic accounts of the preaching of Jesus. As you probably recognize, this scenario would basically be a variation of Baur’s theory about the Petrine-Pauline struggle in early Christianity. The original Markan Jesus was Pauline but has been significantly altered by someone who wanted to give due recognition to John and his followers, and to allow them to correct Pauline errors.

          1. Hi Roger

            I have just been reading Neil Godfrey’s masterful deconstruction of Crossley’s recent book. Neil kept pointing out that the evidence for Crossley’s claims was more wishful than actual. I think that the same will turn out to be true for Clair Rothschild’s evidence regarding the supposed John the Baptist activity in Mark’s gospel.

            For there to be references to JB where she says there are, from citations in your letter, we must invariably understand “Elijah” to be JB. But there isn’t much good reason to do this. There are some weak reasons, but nowhere are the two figures identified.

            For example, in Mark 9:11-13 we read “And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

            I know that everybody, starting with Matthew, figured that when we hear “Elijah has come” we are suppose to think of JB. But it doesn’t say so, does it? “Elijah = JB has come first” sort of fits the scene, but if you think about it, what JB did first was baptize folks and Jesus isn’t doing that as a main purpose.

            Further, JB did not restore all things. Or if he did, I missed it. Where is JB restoring all things? He’s complaining about all things, but that’s not the same thing. Further, Herod was fond of JB but got tricked into beheading him. Well, tough luck for JB but that does not seem to me to give much insight into “they have done to him everything they wished.” Also, while I see connections between people identifying Jesus with John and Jesus with Elijah and Elisha (and nobody else does this, far as I know) that doesn’t add up to a John is Elijah motif strongly emphasized in Mark’s gospel and surely not that John/Elijah functions as the sub-structure for the Markan Jesus. John gets Jesus started off and never shows up again.

            As for Q being based on John teachings, that is an interesting theory, but lacking, again, in evidence. We have a tiny bit of John apocalyptic teaching and a fair amount of similar stuff attributed to Jesus in Q. But perhaps the Q/Jesus teachings have been retrojected back onto JB by Christians (instead of vice versa). If the really big deal about John was baptizing people and this is something Jesus didn’t do (or didn’t do much of) and the baptizing was to get people through the horrible disasters of the coming Day of the Son of Man or whatever JB called the future catastrophe, what point would there be in Jesus being identified with John’s teachings only to offer no particular solution to the problem John proclaimed? In other words, if John offered a way out of the horrors to come, what did Jesus do?
            I’m puzzled, as usual.

            1. Hi Stevan,

              I’m puzzled too, and I think everyone should be, because the earliest Christian records are so inconsistent. But what I am most interested to figure out is why the lack of consistency. That is not the subject of your book and so I don’t fault you with not directly addressing it there. But when reading it I noticed that you do detect a certain tension in Mark’s Gospel. You write, for instance, on page 131:

              Mark’s view of Jesus as a spirit-possessed healer and exorcist is not the view he wrote his gospel to affirm. Rather it is a view that has been passed down to him which he accepts, but which he takes pains to indicate should not predominate over his own, chronologically later, view of Jesus the suffering, dying, and rising son of man.”

              And on page 12 you write:

              Should one believe that Jesus of Nazareth’s main ambition was really to go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise again? Of course not, that is a Markan fiction based on Pauline doctrine.

              As I indicated in my previous comment, however, I suspect that the real tension in Mark is between an original Pauline version of the gospel and a reworking by someone whose sympathies were with the John the Baptist and the Jerusalem church. I would locate the suffering-dying-rising Jesus element chronologically earlier than the one that portrays him as a spirit-possessed healer and exorcist, but both elements could have been part of an original Pauline gospel: The Jesus figure’s crucifixion shows us the Christ that Paul believed in, while the public ministry allegorically portrays the Christ that Paul himself became through his possession of the Spirit of Christ. That is, the Jesus who, for instance, called sinners and ate with them was Paul. Likewise for the Jesus who declared all foods clean. And Paul was the one who ultimately went up to Jerusalem to face the music and there caused a ruckus in the Temple. It was that Pauline gospel that someone reworked by adding Elijah, Moses, John the Baptist and his Q teachings, including the—to use your adjective—“thermonuclear” apocalypse in chapter 13.

              On a different note, you write on page 212:

              In none of Paul’s conflicts with his Christian opponents does he ever accuse them of lacking the spirit of Christ. From his perspective, and the perspective of his congregations, that would have been a devastating accusation. Even in Galatians he does not argue that he and his Galatian Christians have the spirit, while his opponents do not. Rather, he argues that his opponents’ insistence that Christians follow Torah will not cause spirit-possession, while faith in his discourse will. In the course of that argument he makes it clear that the initial experience of Christians is possession (3:2-4). In Second Corinthians he objects to other apostles who too dramatically demonstrate their “gifts of the spirit.” The idea that spirit-possession is a crucial factor in Christian life is not Paul’s invention; he assumes he shares that idea with all other Christians.

              A great insight—and your book is filled with them, by the way! I would only add that this up-till-now shared belief may have been on the verge of changing when Paul wrote Second Corinthians. For he says there (in 2 Cor. 11:4): “If someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough” (my italics). A different spirit? Calls to mind: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but as men do” (Mk. 8:33).

        2. Hi Steven,

          In Q1 it is explained what the Rule of God is (and what not) and how it can be achieved.

          The total transformation of saying QS 65 in Q1 into its version(s?) in edited (final) Q and Luke and Matthew illustrates well how the original mystic-philosophical explanation of the Rule of God was transformed into the religious-mythical apocalyptic vision of the judging Christ expected at the end of times.
          Q1 was still purely a gnostic or mystic text, written for the initiated individual followers in a small mission, but final Q was written for a quite different religious community speculating about the role of Christ and how that was tied to what was written in Jewish texts (reflected in later Q sayings and edits to Q1).

          I find it hard to believe that the authors and editors of final Q had a sufficient understanding of the ideology of Q1.


    3. Hi Stevan,

      What do I think? I raised questions that your view raised for me in a previous comment that I posted earlier before you became aware of my post.

      I think you provide a gateway to a quite plausible explanation for Christian origins. Where we part is on details of the historical narrative involved. I think your idea of an early movement experiencing the sorts of “altered states of consciousness” that you describe (and even of there being rival or related groups) can explain much.

      Where we differ is on structuring a historical narrative of the rise of such a group around the Gospels-Acts narrative details. I don’t see any reason to read the gospels (least of all the Gospel of Mark) as a narrative based on oral traditions relating to historical memories. Quite the contrary: other historical genres of the time express reasons readers can have confidence in their veracity (e.g. explanations of the identity and methods and sources of the author) but the Gospel of Mark as a genre has much more in common with imaginative literature. I am not the first to raise the question, for example, of how Mark would ever have known what Herod was thinking about Jesus and John. The passages relating to Elijah and John bear all the indications of being creatively built upon Old Testament narratives and theological interpretations.

      So I think the first question to be addressed is the literary and theological one. What function do John and Elijah serve in the narrative? We find the answer relates structurally and theologically to questions of Jesus’ identity. I don’t know of any grounds to justify going beyond this.

      The narrative in fact brings out an anomaly as you point out — if we are to interpret it as historical reminiscence: why is it that only Jesus of all of those baptized by John who is possessed by the spirit? (The narrative account of this possession, furthermore, bears every indication of being a literary/imaginative creation with no details at all that cannot be explained in this way.)

      Would not a more plausible historical scenario be one where followers more generally are being possessed from the earliest days, not just one person, especially if the prophets were preparing the way for people to be so possessed?

      (Apologies for such a late reply. Have been a bit off my game the last week or so.)

      1. Neil wrote: “The narrative in fact brings out an anomaly as you point out — if we are to interpret it as historical reminiscence: why is it that only Jesus of all of those baptized by John who is possessed by the spirit? (The narrative account of this possession, furthermore, bears every indication of being a literary/imaginative creation with no details at all that cannot be explained in this way.)”

        Well, A) it’s not a matter of fact that nobody else was possessed, just that if they were we know nothing of it and B) the only claim that is being made historically is that Jesus was possessed at that time. The ancillary vox dei and God incarnate in a Pigeon (more probably Columba oenas than Columba livia, although the two are quite similar in appearance. One or the other is featured in St. Peter’s Basilica on various columns and presumably there represents the Holy Ghost) are not historical claims and, if they are historical (i.e. Jesus heard and saw those things) they are not particularly important anyhow. Jesus’ initial possession experience did not become normative, i.e. Christians weren’t required to hear voices nor to spend 40 days in the wilderness among beasts and angels.

        The question might be whether, when the Voice says “You are my son” he addresses Jesus or the Columba oenas. If the latter, then Jesus receives the Spirit of the Son and thereby becomes Son. This reception, then unique to Him, came to be widespread so that essentially anybody in Christendom would receive the Spirit of the Son and become God’s Son (cf.Galatians 4:6).

        Acts, I believe, was written before the Gospel (because Acts does not reflect any knowledge of the Gospel before the Passion.) As I see it, what Luke knew then about the life of Jesus was basically what’s found in Acts 10:37-39. The Jesus of Acts is in Heaven sending the Spirit and Forgiving Sins and getting set to return. The humble Nazarene tekton apocalypticist is irrelevant.

        It could well be that Mark knew little else other than the sort of history in Acts 10:37-39. However, Markevidently knew that various people including Jesus’ family and disciples thought that this was the important thing about Jesus: Acts 10:37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross….” Mark subsequently went on to write an account of how it was that their thinking of Jesus in this way managed to mislead the people who were told quite plainly and repeatedly that the crucified and risen Son of Man was the crucial thing. So Mark has a first half akin to the Acts passage and a second half akin to the gospel of Paul.

        I think you know that you can declare that anything, literally anything whatsoever that was written of Jesus by anybody ever up to and including this very Sunday, to be a literary/imaginative creation without details that cannot be explained away. The ability of clever people to explain things away has no limits and cannot in and of itself demonstrate the falsehood of non-miraculous accounts (such accounts being prima facie false).

        Luke and I can summarize everything crucial about the historical Jesus in two or three sentences.

        Heck, if I write “William Seymour, a half blind black man, overheard some teachings by Charles Parham that emphasized the present possibility of the Holy Ghost and then in 1906 on Azusa Street Seymour initiated a revival during which people manifested the Gifts of the Spirit, which gifts were sufficiently attractive to be spread rapidly into other congregations,” that really is all I know about William Seymour. If he did many other wonderful things, I don’t know what they are. What little I know of Parham is that he was a dreadful man and originally a Methodist.

        Now, if I wanted to prove to people that Reverend Seymour was God and that through the blindness of his eye gave the Beatific Vision to All who Believed In Him, I would have to make up a lot of very impressive false accounts and come up with some very remarkable theories and stories about his Blessed Lack of Vision. But those stories would not render the one sentence factual account (or at least, the account I know of) false. Claiming that his impairment of vision was his main purpose on earth, that this gave us all the certainty of Beatific Vision to Come, and that the causes of his impairment were divinely ordained… reject all of that, but you haven’t rejected the fact itself. He had but one functioning eye. However, since his divine Impairment is the essence of our claim that through Him we receive the Vision of God, one might then turn around and claim that any discussion of the Holy Impairment must be, ipso facto, the creation of His evangelists and not to be believed.

        Neil wrote “Would not a more plausible historical scenario be one where followers more generally are being possessed from the earliest days, not just one person, especially if the prophets were preparing the way for people to be so possessed?”

        It seems that some people back then tended to agree with you on this because there are accounts that Jesus gave his disciples powers to cast out demons and that he promised to baptize them all with the Spirit and so forth. But these are pretty weakly emphasized in the gospels and so the idea that the possession of his followers after his death was spontaneous seems more reasonable than not. This is especially to be expected if his holy status as the Son of God who had received the Holy Spirit was his claim to group authority. I think the spontaneous occurrence of mass possession fits the fact that mass possession spreading out was the sine qua non of Christian success. It was then a leaderless movement (similarly the Pentecostal movement after Seymour) for in a sense everyone was a leader, and that facilitated its spread. If Jesus had passed his powers to his designated 12 and only to them, that might not have generated a Pentecostal outbreak.

        (Apologies for such a late reply. Have been a bit off my game the last week or so.)

        (Apologies for the type of reply. I am out of practice in these internet discussions. I was active on the old Crosstalk 15 years ago and remember that if I (or anyone) responded to one thing, three responses to that response soon arrived, and they require nine responses, and soon nine others reply and six new things arise and so forth. And then I and others start just ignoring some things and starting in on new things. I suppose that’s just how it has to be..)


        1. Stevan:

          I think you know that you can declare that anything, literally anything whatsoever that was written of Jesus by anybody ever up to and including this very Sunday, to be a literary/imaginative creation without details that cannot be explained away. The ability of clever people to explain things away has no limits and cannot in and of itself demonstrate the falsehood of non-miraculous accounts (such accounts being prima facie false).

          Neil: What I had in mind were quite a number of peer-reviewed studies on genre, literary structures, comparative literary studies and intertextuality. And more on arguments for and against the Gospel of Mark being derived in significant measure from oral tradition. I think a good number of these studies are very rigid with respect to definitions, method and criteria.

          Further, I also have in mind what appears to me to be a notable difference between the grounds for accepting documents as certain kinds of historical source material in historical studies generally and the grounds applied in the case of the gospels for studies of Christian origins.

          Not knowing the provenance or authorship of the gospels (except in the most generalized terms) and not having any contemporary direct or indirect independent support for the narrative they contain, and not having clear and final understanding of the genre of the gospels leaves us unable to validly begin with an assumption that their narrative is or is not based on historical tradition or intent.

          That is, as far as I can see we have no way of knowing either way.

          I don’t see this as “hyperscepticism”; I can’t imagine documents couched in so many similar unknowns would be of any use to any historian for any other type of study. These “unknowns” are the first things that need to be known about any document before we can know how to interpret its contents.

          If from this neutral starting position we identify very strong (not flim-flam uncontrolled, confirmation-bias stuff) theoretically and methodologically soundly based evidence that tilts the balance in favour of the Gospel of Mark being as creative as, say, stories of Jonah and Enoch etc, then we have valid grounds for tentatively resting a case on that view of the Gospel.

          The best we can hope for is to discern what certain groups were writing/reading within certain periods and that came to take on significance for later writers.

          That’s the summary of why I have difficulty in reading narrative details in Mark as historical reflections. (Obviously it would take much longer to address the literary and genre studies to which I am referring and to explore the details of how and why various documents are assessed as yielding historical data etc.)

          But I don’t think that the main point you are making suffers — though I imagine I might be testing your good nature to the limits when I say that. 🙁

          I recall some of those Crosstalk discussions with fondness (mixed at times with disappointment to learn scholars are not always gentlemen/ladies too). I was learning so much then. I hope its not to your embarrassment if I say that your comments were always among my favourites. You have a knack of breaking through underlying assumptions with simplifying logical points.

          1. Neil

            I am beginning to realize, via this discussion, how much what I do is not historical Jesus study but origins of Christianity study. With Christian origins you do have a fact (at least for now — Earl may get to work on it) which is that a rapidly spreading social movement emerged in the mid first century. Based on that fact, question is where did it come from? Then you have competing scenarios invented to account for it.

            If you begin with Jesus and focus your attention on what do we know about Jesus, you wind up with all sorts of problems, as you know. But if the question is reformulated “which of the competing scenarios accounts for the rise of the Christian movement” then Jesus becomes a factor in many scenarios but not all of them. But if there is a Jesus inclusive scenario that accounts for the origin of Christianity better than other scenarios, you have a bit of a control over what Jesus evidence you can use historically.

            So if narrative details in Mark add up to a coherent process leading to the rise of Christianity then they have credibility. If they clearly presuppose Christianity (e.g. miracle stories and resurrection predictions) then no credibility. If they have some credibility (such as some of His teachings) at the outset but cannot account for the rise of Christianity then they are moot at best. Thus my problem with the Teachings whether cynic or wisdom or apocalyptic… such stuff would not give rise to a rapidly increasing gentile based social movement.

            Just some reflections here.


            1. I occasionally consider that some Pagans wanted to make a new mystery religion and hit upon the idea of borrowing Jehovah just as Mithras was borrowed from the Persians for Mithraism. So, they created the new Jehovah, Jesus, as a character in a myth. I’m aware one hypothesis is that Jesus is a parody that perhaps came from theater.

            2. Stevan,

              “Thus my problem with the Teachings whether cynic or wisdom or apocalyptic… such stuff would not give rise to a rapidly increasing gentile based social movement.”

              But if those Teachings are tantric-mystic with Jesus as the guru or master mediator (a quite larger Q1 than that of the cynic smaller one) having performed real demonstrations of his occult powers to his closest disciples, then this in itself is strong enough to attract people from all kinds of backgrounds including Simon Magus and his followers.

              Western people with a rational background are mostly very skeptical about anything to do with ‘mind-over-matter’, which makes them as closed minded to the true base of Christianity as fundamentalist religious folk.

              The christian gospels have a lot of myth making in them, but the origins could not have been made up by the same people who wrote those religious myths because the latter have a different way of thinking, a different type of ideology.


              1. Sad to say, I too am a Western rational person and so I can’t agree with you about the humble Nazarene and tantrism. On the other hand I’m not unfamiliar with the tantric. Google Stevan Davies Mongolian Buddhism and you’ll find a piece I wrote.

            3. Hi Stevan — re “some reflections”:

              I like reflecting and eavesdropping on the reflections of others. Yes, the question is Christian origins as opposed to “historical Jesus” study, as you point out. My own reflections lead me to a different starting “fact”, however, for whatever that’s worth—-

              That there was “a rapidly spreading social movement in the mid-first century” is, I think, more a presumption we have as a result of Acts rather than a certain “starting base fact” — or at least what the words “rapidly spreading social movement in mid first century” conjure up is to some extent coloured and shaped by our narrative tradition. (For you this is less of a problem than it is for me, I think, since you date Acts prior to the gospels.)

              The “starting facts” as I see them are the writings of Paul and the gospels, or let’s say the Gospel of Mark. These are our earliest “facts” in the sense of hard evidence. How to explain them? That is, how to explain their “narrative contents”?

              And also how to explain the theological meanings that Jesus in each case represents. In neither source is he presented as anything but a theological cipher, no? yes?

              Then how to explain subsequent documentary evidence in relation to that at the start?

              I think from Hanges’ study of Paul’s churches we can accept an explanation for growth in the Greek world (I don’t know how “rapid” it would have been) that does not need a historical Jesus as a factor.

              From many aspects of Mark’s Gospel I think we need to factor in reactions to the fall of Jerusalem as part of any explanation for the spread of a Jewish “Christian” faction and its separation from mainstream Judaism.

              Whether the movement first began in Palestine or more generally “Syria-Palestine” as a popular low-class movement or initially as an elitist sect of Jewish intellectuals are questions I don’t know how to answer. Paul does not mention Galilee and we see considerable evidence for thinking that Galilee was introduced as a setting because of theological-prophetic symbolism in a highly symbolic gospel narrative.

              Where does the aetiological myth-making begin? As far as I can see we only have two points to work with: Paul’s writings and then the turning point with the fall of Jerusalem and all that went along with that.

              I really don’t know how to uncover the details of origins given the nature of the evidence we have.

  13. Hi Phil

    My approach is to take the data, mostly canonical, and try and make secular sense of it. Reading out all of the fantasy, is there anything left that makes sense? It appears to me that it makes most sense to understand Jesus as a spirit possessed exorcist whose followers created a pentecostal cult analogous to Seymour’s cult. So I am making use of the primary biographical account (Mark) and the account given in the only ancient cult history (Acts) backed up by various pentecostal reports in Paul and John…. So you do find a “real person Jesus in the Gospels” in the sense that gospel reports are not entirely mythology and fantasy and God walking upon the earth. The exorcist to Pentecostalism trajectory isn’t fantasy.

    While I see lots of historical problems with the gospels, I don’t see any particular use of any evidence in Price’s competing account. How much evidence is there for the notion that “John was inciting war on taxes via rebellion against Rome”? The gospel evidence for John is pretty scanty and, if wholly unreliable re: Jesus is presumably unreliable re: John. What evidence is there outside of the gospels for a John cult at all? If Josephus is unreliable for Jesus, why not also for John?

    As for Paul, he seems not to care about Historical Jesus much at all. Accordingly, I would agree in part with what you and Price are saying. In fact the first sentence in my new “Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity” book is “Jesus of Nazareth had very little to do with the initial foundation and spread of Christianity, or so I will argue.” But little isn’t nothing, and while William Seymour had little to do with the rise of Pentecostalism, without his little maybe the whole half billion person movement would not exist today.

    So, I’m not a mythicist. I’m what you might call a 90 percenter rather than a 100 percenter. 90 percent of Gospel accounts are made up, I think, but not 100. I’d challenge mythicists to come up with a coherent evidence based alternative account for why it is that an ultimately dominant religious movement came up with a fictitious Galilean manual laborer (tekton) exorcist as their founder. Even if we posit a movement believing in a cosmic Christ come to earth (or into a near dimension) why on earth write him up as a Galiean tecton exorcist?

    1. I’ll give you John excepting that Josephus might be reliable for him if he’s not interpolated. I’m not that familiar with Josephus’ relevant accounts, only that the TF was pretty well destroyed by Fitzgerald in ‘Nailed’, & is found in a medieval MS it breaks the tonal pattern of terribly. So, I’m familiar with that section of Joe’s history.
      I believe a historical Jesus was a powerful attraction for any cult that had that. They would be a cult w/ the “real” Jesus. Thus, I suspect his euhemerization is probable. His origin, I agree, is obscure. I’ll point out that few historicists actually ever give me any text when I ask what Jesus said or did in the gospels or even in the accepted Paulines. That I see no solid evidence for historicism comes from such vagueries. Thanks for your polite reply.

    2. The simple answer is that the original ‘human’ figure of Jesus first took shape as the perceived founder of the Q-style Kingdom-of-God preaching movement centered in Galilee during the course of that movement’s evolution over time (perhaps a few decades in the middle part of the first century). A study of the Q document through its various strata will demonstrate the emergence of that figure in the ‘Q’ thinking, as an invented founder who had first spoken the teachings, performed the miracles which heralded the kingdom, and prophesied the coming of the Son of Man (initially not equated with him). Nothing unusual there. Ancient religious and philosophical movements often developed fictitious founders as time went on.

      Since this perceived founder (we don’t know if he was originally called “Jesus”) reflected and symbolized the nature and activities of the Q preachers himself, he took on their characteristics, including a Galilean origin. He was not developed out of a heavenly Christ concept–that concept belonged to a separate religious movement on the first century scene, and only with the Gospel of Mark do we see the first amalgamation of the two strands.

      The Q specialist William Arnal recognizes that the Q Jesus is no less and no more than the sum of the Q preachers. For him, the historical Jesus was ‘subsumed’ into them until he is not differentiated from the movement as a whole. But because a study of Q shows that its Jesus was only introduced to Q as time went on, the better way to view it is that the initial ‘historical Jesus’ was distilled OUT OF the Q movement. It was a kind of hypostatization.

      (If the movement which came to be known as Confucianism developed an imagined founder, he was naturally going to be Chinese.)

      The Q Jesus has no soteriological role (no significance attached to a death and neither is there mention of a resurrection), and only in the latest stage of the movement is he perhaps (this is not certain) equated in the Q thinking with the expected Son of Man. Originally, he only prophesied him. Thus it becomes almost impossible that he grew out of the heavenly Christ movement.

      Only with the Gospels (the Synoptics grew out of the Q ethos) did that equation solidify. Did Mark have contact with Paul or some Pauline group? I personally think he did not, but probably with a less sophisticated branch of the heavenly Christ movement, possibly even traceable to the original group in Jerusalem around Peter and James James. But there were others operating that we cannot put names to, such as rivals “in Christ” whom Paul refers to in his letters. Whoever they were, Mark or unknown predecessors in the circles he moved in effected a syncretization of the two movements and their ideas, and the Galilean preaching Jesus as sacrificed Savior was born.

      Quite simple, really.


      1. So Pauls Jesus with “mythical” and Q’s Jesus was “real” (meaning preached in Galilee and was killed by the Romans) and Mark synthesized them?

      2. I dislike this translation “Kingdom-of-God” and very much prefer “Rule-of-God” because in the earliest Q layer it is already well explained that this Rule-of-God is something taking place or realized in and via the (subjective part of the) human mind by way of expansion, not something that can be found in any external way.

        On top of that fundamental difference in perception of the main original goal in Q, the person who speaks the sayings of Q1 is himself presented as a master or guru who is central to the practices taught in Q, so not just as a teacher of wisdom but also as a mysterious mystic mediator, a personalized expression of the goal who is to be internalized.
        So whether or not this master was a historical Jesus, he was not “added by a Q-community” later on but was there from the start in the oldest part of Q as projected by the central teacher himself.
        Yes, he is also a miracle man and healer in the pre-passion version of Mark but that is something fully compatible with such a type of master/guru who is teaching the oldest layer of Q1 to his closest disciples.
        Rather it would have been strange if such a tantric-mystic type of master teaching Q1 would not also fight actively against stagnant religious powers (the enemies of mysticism as explained in Q1) and demonstrate in real life his own mastery of ‘mind over matter’. You don’t need a Paul or Simon to explain the Jesus of Q1 and the first half of Mark.

        The passion-Jesus is a very different matter, he does not blend well with the Jesus in the first half of Mark, but seems to have been the work of a final editor possibly inspired by the Pauline teachings. If this type of Jesus originated as a Simonite invention, it must have been borrowed from other cultic ideas and practices not directly inspired on those of Q1 but maybe somehow still connected to and also derived from Q1.
        If there was a historic Jesus who spoke and taught Q1, he can hardly be imagined to have had anything to do himself with the passion side of the Markan gospel story.

        Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher who will return to judge is a secondary development within the Q-community and not made by the originator of Q1 just like other later Q sayings that fit poorly with Q1.

      3. Hi Earl

        I still have files of our long email correspondence back in 1998 just before your “Jesus Puzzle” book was finished. Can you give me a reference for Arnal’s ideas that you are citing? You made a reference to a hypothetically fictitious Confucius. You should actually use Lao Tzu because he is certainly a fictitious hypostasis of the Tao Te Ching.

        So, I gather that there were Q preachers preaching Q stuff who were, eventually, morphed into a fictitious Jesus who, like them, was a preacher from Galilee. But the prevailing theory of Jesus is that he was a preacher from Galilee who preached Q stuff. So it seems that you have reversed Occam’s razor and taken a pretty simple theory, Jesus went around preaching Q stuff which was later collected into Q because of the reputation of Jesus who preached it, and hypothesized a network of otherwise unknown Q preachers who did the same thing Jesus was supposed to have done, but without Jesus, and then discerned that Jesus was a hypostasis of the generality of Q preachers who were, after all, hypothetically presumed to exist based on a set of sayings attributed to Jesus. So the supposed author is presumed not to exist but a bunch of authors did exist who were eventually fictionally made into the non-existent author who was, for all intents and purposes (a Galilean, a Q preacher) the same as one of them.

        I’m not altogether opposed to this sort of thinking. I have been for decades now puzzled that anyone would have paid any particular attention to the platitudes, proverbs, nonsense and vicious stuff that is said to be the Q preaching. Why exactly are we convinced that a Son of Man is coming to kill practically everybody? And what are we supposed to do about it if we are convinced? I never have known. Are we Galileans going to decide to follow Judean law in great detail (akin to Canadians suddenly discovering a mighty need to follow United States law) or can we ignore it so that all foods are clean and people are lords over the Sabbath or what? As far as I am concerned the standard Christian presumption that all of the Q stuff (and, for that matter, Mark stuff) that Jesus supposedly preached and that seems by and large pointless, enigmatic or nonsensical, it all is to be treasured and admired because it was spoken by Jesus. Or, to write a simpler sentence, the teachings of Jesus are admirable because and only because it was Jesus who taught them. So I’d say that Jesus is the guarantor of the Q point of view (if any) and not that some successful and admired set of Q teachings came to underlie a fictitious Jesus.

        But then, if there was a widely admired Jesus who was then said to be the author of a bunch of platitudes, proverbs, nonsense and vicious stuff, why? I preach the Jesus of Acts 10. He was a famous and successful exorcist (beginning at the b of John, why not) whose exorcised followers were spontaneously spirit-possessed and then found themselves able to communicate that state and so forth and so on. The Pentecostal origins of Christianity begin with Jesus’ group which itself began with Jesus. Eventually, since the group was founded by its founder, the group presumed that its late founder must have had some teachings to have taught. Here you can bring in the whole Q shebang if you like. Or, for that matter, Thomas (about which I have made a major discovery lately!). I (and doubtless you) have long noted the propensity of the early Church to just make up teachings for Jesus to have taught, or attribute to him stuff from who knows where that others taught. Now, unlike you, I think the Jesus came first and the attribution of teachings second, not that the teachings were first and the teacher was invented second. As far as I can see the Q program of teachings didn’t merit any particular hypostatized teacher. As with the Thomas program of teachings, the Q program doesn’t have the intellectual heft to generate much of a movement IMHO.

        I note that in Mark’s first half (the gospel of how the disciples got it wrong) Jesus’ teachings consist mainly of exorcisms, e.g. 1: 26-28 “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” His verbal instructions were designed to be incomprehensible parables (chapter 4 passim) except to the disciples, who failed to understand them anyhow.

        So I’m not at all sure that there ever were any teachings of the historical Jesus. Like Mark, I think his teaching was mainly the casting out of demons. But once the Pentecostal cult movement got going, their interest in their historical founder included the presumption that He had teachings and so they came up with teachings. If those were Q materials I don’t know where they came from (maybe Arnal knows) or why anybody thought much of them, but that doesn’t matter. Soon Matthew has him insisting we all should be Orthodox Jews, Thomas has him teaching all sorts of vaguely mysticish stuff, in John he announces that he is here to announce that he is here, and so forth. Hence my utter doubt that He was a Teacher in the first place.

        I don’t know if this is the literal opposite of what you were arguing or not. How the Christ Cult (which in my recent book is traced back to pre-Christian Christianity through the Odes of Solomon) managed to incorporate the crucified One I don’t know but it evidently did.


  14. Hi prof. Davies,

    What do you think about the following reply to your question:

    Even if we posit a movement believing in a cosmic Christ come to earth (or into a near dimension) why on earth write him up as a Galiean tecton exorcist?

    Paul is architekton in 1 cor 3:10. Exorcist was Paul before Gospel Jesus. Spirit-possessed men were Paul & Pillars before Gospel Jesus. Mark is midrash from our Paul’s letters to cast Paul in ”Jesus” because in this imitatio Christi the historical man Paul was the best candidate, among all the Jesus-possessed men, for ”Mark”. See Dykstra’s book on Mark.

    For example: about John the Baptist, the same story of his death in Mark seems an allegory of Antiochian crisis of Gal 2: the ‘king Herod’ of Judeo-Christianity is Peter, coopted by Judeo-Christians (”Salomè” and his ”mother”) against ”John” (Paul) during a ”banquet” in ”Galilee” (the topic of sharing food with pagans) and the cut-off head of John is surprisingly put on a ”platter” (other allusion to ”banquet” topic) and not in a basket.

    Now, if I take your view to his extreme consequences, if the ecstatic man becomes the same spirit who possessed him, then Paul becomes ”Jesus” in Mark because the Jesus-spirit possessed him (and letters + Mark are evidence of this).

    But I can say that Paul exists because we have evidence of him. What is the evidence that behind the ”Jesus”/Paul of Mark there is also an allusion to an historical man (Jesus) distinct from another historical man Paul (and from the theological symbol, too)? If Jesus works only as a spirit/possessor (not man) and Paul as a spirit-possessed man (evidence in letters and in Mark), why do you consider him as a historical man, too?

    Very Thanks for any reply,

  15. Hi Giuseppe.

    Your letter is filled with questions and comments so it’s hard to focus on one or two things.

    I think it’s important to know that Paul believed that he had joined a movement, one that he had been persecuting, not that he believed he was starting something new. I don’t think there is evidence that Mark was creating Jesus as a legendary Paul because there’s not any reason no to just write about Paul. Luke did.

    I do think that Paul becomes Jesus… or to put it more in Paul’s terms, Paul becomes Christ or Paul and his followers become Sons of God. I’ve wondered whether it might be best to think of the Spirit of the Son making Jesus into God’s Son first, and then subsequently all Christians are made into God’s Sons as in Galatians 4:4-7.

    1. I apologize for my unclear question, but it isn’t my intention to say that Paul is inventing something new. I’m assuming (with you) that the early Christians and Paul were possessed by the Spirit, and they called this spirit ‘Jesus’.

      I partially disagree when you write:
      I don’t think there is evidence that Mark was creating Jesus as a legendary Paul because there’s not any reason no to just write about Paul.

      Dykstra and Adamczewski have made a good case for the Markan Jesus being an allegorized image of Paul. These historicist scholars think that Mark had ”paulinized” the historical Jesus (Paul being their best channel to Christ, a kind of image Christi), but in such excessive manner to raise the question: why did Mark allude again and again to an episode or a point of Paul when speaking of Jesus, and at the same time without ever talking about something related to an historical Jesus?

      Question 1: Maybe that Mark was forced to talk about Paul=”Jesus” because Jesus never existed and therefore had to just talk impliciter about the man who more closely resembled Jesus (as best possessed by spirit ”Jesus”)?

      Question 2: Your reply of post above, from what I can infer, is that you disagree a priori with the thesis that Mark paulinized excessively his literary Jesus? If you recognize that as evidence, I renew my question 1.

      I hope that this time I am more clear. Very Thanks!

  16. Hi Giuseppe
    I do find it hard to follow your writing.
    I do think I agree with you that Mark has taken a story of Jesus and Paulinized it. In other words, as I understand Mark, he actually argues against the point of view that Mark was primarily a spirit possessed exorcist. He sets that up in the beginning of the Gospel (1:1 – 8: 21) to show how it came to be that people (especially Jesus’ family and disciples) came to misunderstand Jesus. I suppose this view would be summarized as “Mark thought the historical Jesus was a spirit possessed exorcist but anyone who (like me) thinks this is mainly what Jesus was is completely mistaken.”

    Then for the rest of the Gospel Jesus declares himself to be the epitome of the Pauline Christ who came to suffer and die and rise again. So yes, Paul’s “Jesus and Him crucified” 1 Cor 2:2 is the foundation of Jesus’ self-image in Mark’s second half. I don’t think there’s the slightest bit of historical Jesus in that presentation. So if this is what you mean by stating that Mark paulinized the historical Jesus, I agree.

    1. Hi prof Davies,
      I understand. I see that for the Mark’s first half also a case is already made by Adamczewski that the Markan Jesus is none other than Paul in his meeting & clash with the Pillars. For example, the ”scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem” against whom Jesus polemizes are again and again allegories of the same Pillars (leaders of Judeo-Christians) against which polemized Paul in Gal 2.

      In my view there is concrete evidence that if Paul does or say A in his letters, Mark say allegorically that Jesus did A too in his Gospel. This doesn’t imply that Jesus never existed, but can permit to raise a legitimate question: is the Markan Jesus simply paulinized (your view) or is Paul described as an alter Christus (working as a simple human stand-in for a Spirit-Jesus that was never existed on Earth) ???

      In both the cases, the Mark’s message is the same (and I hope you agree): his readers can grasp the Son behind the highly paulinized Markan Jesus (and then using de facto Paul, and secondarily Jesus, as a direct channel to Christ and his indirect mirror).

      Thanks for this feedback of views,

  17. I can give an example of what I want say to prof, apologizing again if I am unclear.

    According the prof Davies, there’s a historical episode behind the scene of Jesus moved by Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. An historical Jesus alone had the ASC at John’s baptism and therefore is intention was to test, during his auto-exile in desert, if the Spirit (who possessed him) came from God or from demon.

    But I have some problems with this view.

    I agree that there is an allusion to a ASC experience, but I question the identity of human subject of that experience. For Davies, he is the historical Jesus. In my view, he is Paul, Jesus-posseded.

    But I find written:

    The surprising statement that the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out to the wilderness (Mk 1:12) illustrates Paul’s statement that God separated him from his mother’s womb, so presumably also from other people (Gal 1:15b).

    The particular idea of being tempted (peirazo) by Satan (o satanas) because of being separated for some time from other people (Mk 1:13) could have been borrowed by the evangelist from the Pauline text 1 Cor 7:5.
    Besides, the image of Jesus as being expelled from the holy land of Israel to the wilderness for forty days (emera), and being tempted there, presumably also for forty days, by Satan (Mk 1:13), reflects the scriptural halachic idea of uncleanness, and consequently separation from holy things, as lasting for forty days after the birth of a son (Lev 12:2.4 LXX). Consequently, this idea also alludes to Paul’s statement that God separated him from his mother’s womb, presumably after his birth (Gal 1:15b).
    The sharp contrast between the revelation of God’s Son in Jesus (Mk 1:10-11) and the following temptation that he had to endure (Mk 1:12-13) may also reflect the logic of Paul’s thought in 2 Cor 12:1-9, which describes the revelation that Paul received (2 Cor 12:1-6; cf Gal 1:16a, Mk 1:10-11) and them, in contrast to it, the satanic temptation which he had to overcome with God’s grace (2 Cor 12:7-9; cf. Mk 1:12-13). Consequently, the Markan statement that Jesus, by the divine will, was tempted by Satan (satanas; Mk 1:12-13b) may reflect Paul’s idea of his being tempted by a messener of Satan (2 Cor 12:7). The surprising statement that Jesus was with wild beasts (Mk 1:13c) may illustrate Paul’s idea that Christ’s power dwelt in him ( 2 Cor 12:9c-e). The related Marcan statement that the angels served Jesus (Mk 1:13d) may illustrate Paul’s related idea that God’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Cor 12:9b).
    The idea that God separated Paul him from his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15b) seems to have been additionally combined by the evangelist with Paul’s idea that immediately (eutheos) after the revelation of God’s Son in him (Gal 1:16c; cf. 1:16a) he went away to Arabia (Gal 1:17b). The remark that immediately (euthus) after the revelation of God’s Son in Jesus (Mk 1:10-11) the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness (Mk 1:12) aptly illustrates the latter Pauline idea, especially because of the Pauline association between Arabia and the wilderness of Sinai (Gal 4:25).

    The story about the movement of the main narrative character from the region of wilderness of Judaea to Galilee (Mk 1:14-20; cf. 1:4-13) by means of the hypertextual procedure of spatial translation illustrates the idea of Paul’s being called to proclaim God’s on among the Gentiles (Gal 1:15c.16b).
    The remark concerning the imprisonment of John as preceding Jesus’s preaching of gospel of God (Mk 1:14) in a narrative way illustrates Paul’s idea that the epoch of prophets preceed the epoch of the Gospel of God (Rom 1:1-2). This remark, however, contradicts Josephu’unprejudiced historical data concerning the activity and exectuion of John as following (by the time of Herod Antipas’ war against Aretas c. AD 36; cf. Jos. Ant. 18:109-119) and not preceding the activity and execution of Jesus (cf. Jos. Ant. 18.63-64 [in its original form]).

    (B. Adamczewski, The Gospel of Mark, p. 41-42)

    This moves me to see a difference between my view and Stevan’s.

    -According the prof, from what I can understand, if the man A, once possessed by spirit B, gives his name ”A” to spirit B then, after this possession, the spirit B is recognized as A (and not more as B).

    -In my view, if the man A is possessed by spirit B, it’s B that gives his name to A, therefore the man A is recognized as ”B” (and not more as A).

    Which is the evidence that the first view is more expected than the second view?
    I am very curious… 🙂


  18. According to Plato’s philosophy, for each trascendent Idea there is on terra firma a corrispondent material and mortal copy. Plato despised art graphics because it is a copy of a copy, thus introducing an unnecessary element in the relationship between the idea and its most direct, material copy.

    In Platonic terms, what Mark did was to present in his story the material copy of trascendent idea of Son of God. If a historical Jesus existed, we should expect to be him the legitimate mirror of trascendent Son. But we find in his place allegorically represented the actions and the sayings of man called Paul. Therefore the suspect arises that is Paul the actor that plays the part of mortal mirror of Son. A mirror has his unique utility into the object that it reflects in his image. No wonder, then, if the cosmic Christ is uniquely and narratively mirrored into the more little of all apostles that ‘saw’ him: ”Paulus”.

    Therefore it would not be correct to say that the Markan Jesus is ”a legendary Paul”. The object of adoration, for original readers of Mark’s Gospel, continues still to be Jesus Christ, the Son, the pure spirit. But the only vehicle to have an little taste of Jesus’s divinity was by knowing his best (human) reflection on terra firma: the Jesus-possessed Paul. And only him.

    This I think and believe even if the first Gospel wasn’t Mark, but proto-Mark or Marcion’s Gospel.


  19. I read today in one breath the first chapter of Spirit Possession. I was impressed especially when I read these words:

    Because one who receives a possessing Spirit can be identified with that Spirit, Christians began to identify as ones who had become Christs and Sons of God. … Some, receiving Jesus’ spirit, may have identified themselves with Jesus.

    Is not this the expected case of Simon Magus? Is not this what even I was writing above?

    Eventually the first Mythicists came into being, people who affirmed their experiences of the Spirit of Jesus but denied that there ever was an historical Jesus. The conflict between such Mythicists and their rival Historicists is described, from the latter’s point of view, in the Johannine epistles.

    I would ask to Stevan why do he write ”Mythicists” with upper case ”M”. Maybe because is Mythicism a religion as Docetism?

    It would seem, after my first reading, that the only difference at this point between historicists and mythicists is that the former have their point of origin, of all the guys possessed by the Spirit, in a historical Jesus. While the latter, before Paul, first of the Pillars, do not have no candidate except Cephas as vague founder of the cult (the first to be possessed by the Spirit of a myhical Jesus?). Or, in its place, no people…

    Maybe under the historicist paradigm refined with Davies’view the only unexpected (=not probable) evidence in Paul’s letters, is the Hymn to Phylippians where is possible a reading of ”name above all names” as ”Jesus” (and not ”Lord”) to a first anonymous (and therefore mythical) entity.

    In any case, against Stevan that at p. 24 write ”I know of no reason to disbelieve this account in general…” (alluding to wandering of Jesus in the desert after the reception of Spirit via John’s baptism) there remains the question of who was really meant (allegorically) by Mark when he spoke of Jesus’ baptism, of his auto-exile in desert and his entry into the Galilee of the Gentiles. Even Paul experienced ”his Son in me”. Even Paul never met with anyone but went into the wilderness of Arabia (read my 2 posts above). And Paul began preaching in pagan area of Damascus before to meet the Pillars and Peter.
    The evidence of a historical Jesus Spirit-possessed seems partially to evaporate just in that parts of Mark that Stevan finds someway historical. There’s still Acts of Apostles, but I believe it’s from advanced II CE and then of no utility.

  20. Hi Neil,

    only a question.
    In your question to Stevan above, you ask:

    Would not a more plausible historical scenario be one where followers more generally are being possessed from the earliest days, not just one person, especially if the prophets were preparing the way for people to be so possessed?

    Can I know how do you reply if I ask you this question (partially similar):

    Would not a more plausible and probable historical scenario be one where is the man called Paul the person being possessed by Spirit and allegorically related, in Mark, behind the Jesus baptized by John, especially if the prophets were preparing the way for people to be so possessed?

    (you can see my comment above 06:59 about my view)

    Very thanks for any kind of reply,


    1. An interesting though, Giuseppe. I can’t say anything more than that because I don’t know how such an idea could be proven, but an interesting possibility nonetheless.

  21. All these ideas about the origins of Gospel suggest me a curious thought…

    Carrier distinguishes between historicists ”triumphalist” and historicists ”minimalist”: the difference seems to be that the former believe in a historical Jesus because the Testimonium Flavianum says so and so [”in his original form”, remember] while the latter believe in a historical Jesus precisely to the extent that he was totally irrelevant and insignificant for all his contemporaries (as they realize it, is a mistery).

    I wonder if it’s worth a symmetric difference between mythicists as well: the mythicists ”minimalist” would be those that place the origin of historicizing of Jesus in a gospel possibly anonymous, secret, esoteric, later interpolated, censured or lost. The mythicists ”triumphalist” are those that give the first Gospel (only a pure theological manifest) to a writer publicly known (to my knowledge, Marcion is the best candidate).


  22. Hello Stevan,

    Yes, I too possess a copy of a key exchange between us in the late 90s. A lot of water under the bridge since then, what?

    I think Occam and his razor have been accorded far too prominent a role in trying to figure out how Christianity started. I have postulated the gradual invention of a founder for the Q movement because that is what a close study of the Q document indicates. Occam simply has to step aside. Yes, the reconstructed Q is a complex document and gives us a window only on the latest stage of its evolution. But the case for Q is far more solid and convincing than the case against it. So there is no compelling reason not to run with it. And Kloppenborg et al’s strafication of Q makes eminent sense. Don’t forget that redaction over time is the hallmark of the entire documentary record, whether in an obscure document like the Ascension of Isaiah, or Matthew being a redaction of Mark.

    The beauty of the surviving Q is that we can see its redactive nature over time. I spend a hundred pages on it in “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man” and can’t begin to summarize it all here, but I might point out a couple of key features. One is the stratification (Q1-Q2-Q3 which I have largely retained) which indicates that the earliest version of Q was nothing more than a wisdom-style collection, unattached to any identified figure as original preacher, let alone to anything associated with his career. If Q began as a record followers wanted to make of a Galilean preacher they were bowled over by, why did only one type of saying get recorded, why did nothing to do with biography or personality become attached to those sayings? Answers to those questions are facile (such as Crossan’s “no interest in Jesus’ person, only his sayings”), and amount to forcing a preferred explanation out of problematic evidence which is better interpreted in a simpler way (where is Occam when we really need him?) Does one really think that on the first century scene with its messianic fervor and end-of-time expectation, a wisdom teacher would gain a following while totally ignoring those contemporary currents? Kingdom-of-God expectation involved the claim that miracles were heralding that kingdom, yet the original Jesus wouldn’t have been a miracle worker? If he was, why is there no miracle working in Q1? Given the apocalyptic mentality of the time, could he possibly have avoided offering himself as a prophet? Why are there no prophetic statements in Q1? And why, in fact, would this Jewish preacher have ignored every major question of Jewish interest and adopted as his preaching material something clearly derived ultimately from a Cynic source? And then had a cult following develop around him?

    Kloppenborg has recognized that Q underwent a theological shift between the time the John the Baptist sayings at the opening of Q (3:17f–part of Q2) were formulated (you can be sure the Baptist preached no such thing), in which the Baptist warned of the coming of one who would baptize with fire, showing no knowledge at that point of any human preaching Jesus on the scene, and then a later stage in which a Jesus was introduced, as in the artificially constructed “Dialogue between John and Jesus” (Lk./Q 7:18-35) in which John is made to ask Jesus if he is the “Coming One”, involving an entirely different type of figure from the opening Baptist periscope. Kloppenborg recognizes that the two figures are incompatible but has no ready solution, except to suggest that they are two different figures in the Q mind.

    That “Dialogue” also shows clear signs of internal redaction, and this feature found throughout parts of Q is one of the compelling arguments for the existence of Q. It makes no sense to think that if all the material assigned to Q was the product of Matthew, to be copied by Luke, that this type of recognizable complex redaction within that material would exist and be the product of Matthew himself. The whole of Q creates a picture of literary development over time, showing that it existed and had a history prior to Matthew and Luke.

    My cite of Arnal comes from his article “The Q Document,” in Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts, p.119-154 (ed. Matt Jackson-McCabe, Fortress Press). Here are a couple of paragraphs from my JNGNM (p.349-50) commenting on Arnal’s statements:

    If Q shows an interest in a universal resurrection, how can we explain its utter disinterest in Jesus’ own resurrection, to the point of [Arnal] acknowledging that “it is nowhere to be seen”? Part of the argument—just as we see in Pauline passages like 1 Corinthians 15:12—would surely be an appeal to the resurrection of Jesus. Either we must see a complete detachment between the faith content of this particular ‘Jesus movement’ and that of the Pauline type, or Q knows of no Jesus who could be identified with our Christian Christ….

    There can be no better example of the scholarly recourse of reading into a document something which cannot be accepted as absent. An evident omission is explained by finding—or rather constructing—a backdoor by which to introduce it. Jesus and his experiences are present in Q in the persons and experiences of the Q preachers. He is one of a “collective.” He is “embedded” in, “assimilated to” the “broader ethos of the Q group.” He thus becomes something which is undifferentiated from a symbol for the Q community and in fact we now have no way of telling the difference between the Q mind with a Jesus and the Q mind without a Jesus. He is no longer recognizable on his own.


    1. Whether or not you see Q1 as referring to the personality of the speaker of the sayings depends also on which sayings you exclude from or include in Q1 and how you interpret different sayings but more importantly on whether you recognize the ideology of Q1 correctly.

      Sayings in which the speaker explains who he is and what his role is can be found in QS11, QS14, QS21, QS24A, QS24B, QS25A, QS26, QS31, QS34 (by implication), QS46, QS56.

      The combination of these (sometimes partly) self-referring sayings, also in relation to the rest of the Q1 sayings, makes it obvious that the speaker of the sayings is not a cynic philosopher sharing mere “wisdom sayings” but rather a tantric-mystic master or guru whose own personality and role is very much part of the teachings. The wisdom given is mostly instructions of how to think and behave in order to realize the spiritual goal in ones personal life, the Rule of God or Holy Spirit. Another part is about how to behave as a disciple in the spiritual mission which the speaker leads.
      So they are not just any set of wisdom sayings but a coherent set of practical instructions for the spiritual disciples (as is normal in tantric-mystic teachings).

      In the edited parts of Q, this view on the speaker is blurred by another (more religious mythical) interpretation of who Jesus is.

      1. In almost every Q passage you refer to, any dimension of self-reference has to be read into it. In the course of Q’s evolution and redaction, once a Jesus figure is present in the Q mind, he will to some extent emerge in a reading of such passages, but that does not mean that this is the way they were originally presented. The ideology now supposedly attached to the Jesus figure was originally the ideology of the sect as a whole and in particular its preachers. And certainly this is the case with the Q1 sayings which, with one exception, are unattached to any particular speaker.

        Ironically, you did not appeal to the one passage assigned to Q1 which contains the name “Jesus”, the set of 3 chreiae in Lk./Q 9:57-62 (QS19). In Jesus:Neither God Nor Man (p.337-8), I demonstrate that this passage in Q1 was at some point artificially constructed out of earlier discrete sayings (aided by the Gospel of Thomas’ inclusion of one of those unconnected sayings).


        1. It does not prove it, but is is the most logical way to look at these Q passages once you recognize the tantric-mystic ideology reflected in all of the Q1 sayings and in the demonstrations of powers and other behaviours of Jesus that fit very well with such an interpretation of the ideology of Q1. The cynic philosopher is not the best fit.

          I did appeal to QS21 = Luke 9: 57-62.
          I think the numbering of the Q-sayings sometimes differ (you called that saying QS19).
          In QS21, where there is the mention of the name Jesus, the content is perfectly compatible with the behaviour of a typical tantric master or guru and how a tantric disciple is expected to behave if he wants to follow such a master.
          In tantra, the master or guru us essential, so it is no surprise to me that there are so many Q1 sayings dealing with this subject.

          Tantric-mysticism is not something exclusive to Hinduism or Buddhism, it can also be found in Islam (jihadic aspect) and Taoism (the word Tao is even derived from the word tantra just like the ‘To’ in Shinto is). There were diaspora Jews living in Kashmir in those days, so the connection is not as far-fetched as it may seem to some.

    2. Hi Earl

      It’s a puzzle all right. I generally forget how far out of the mainstream I am. I’m surely the only person to come to the study of the New Testament with a bit of a background in the study of spirit possession, although that means little other than that I had read Bastide’s African Religions of Brazil and such-like before having read any of the New Testament. So when I got around to reading in the Word it was obvious to me that they were experiencing what Candomble folks were experiencing… or at least the same sort of thing. So we had a spirit possession cult originating from a spirit possessed guy. Nothing particularly odd about that in my opinion. The odd thing turned out to be that despite Holy Writ insisting up down and sideways that receiving the spirit, the paraclete, the son of God and so forth was the sine qua non… this was almost wholly ignored by secular scholarship.

      Or, if discussed by tiresome tendentious scholarship of the likes of James Dunn, supposedly whatever it was that was happening with early Christian spirit experience was some sort of sui generis unique divinely ordained stuff that nobody would dream of thinking was the sort of thing that happens in other religions all over the world all the time.

      Unlike most NT scholars, I never had any faith. Best I ever did was to wonder “so many millions of intelligent people believe this stuff, am I missing something?” Well, no. I’m a “cultural Presbyterian” and always have been. I had a colleague at an NEH seminar at BYU, a professor at Bob Jones Bible College, who was an ardent member of a Faith Free Presbyterian Church. I pointed out that we were both faith free Presbyterians.

      So, anyhow, my view that spirit possession is the key is not commonly held, to say the least. It does allow me to actually share your opinion that there never was a widespread movement based on the teachings of Historical Jesus. I’ve never seen the attractiveness of those supposed teachings. Further, I am aware that the historical fundament of them is presumably the wisdom teachings of Q1. These sayings are also exactly what you get if you assume Thomas to be independent of the NT and then presume that the common tradition between Thomas and NT is as near to the HJ as you are likely to get. You get Q1 from that presumption by an entirely different route than Kloppenborg took. And, come to think of it, that in turn supports the hypothesis of Thomasine independence.

      That wisdom level derivative set of sayings is utterly and obviously not something that will begin a successful social movement, which Christianity certainly was. So if the Q2 and Q3 sayings are secondary and the non-paralleled Thomas sayings are secondary (as everybody believes) and you are left with Q1//GTh as your core, and your core doesn’t amount to much, there goes Jesus the Teacher. I think this is where you are coming from.

      Good point about the redactional structure of Q demonstrating its existence over against the Farrer hypothesis of Luke’s use of Matthew. I must remember this when and if I ever converse with Goodacre again. (Another Crosstalk veteran).

      Preaching Mark 1 through 8 as I do, well, bits of it anyhow, we agree (Mark and I) that Jesus was either a deliberately obscure teacher (chapter 4) or just a failure at it (chapter 8). In these modern times it is oft presumed that if your students aren’t learning stuff it’s because you’re not teaching very well. I find this depressing, but never mind. Mark provides a framework for an historical Jesus who was not principally a teacher but principally an exorcist. Fine with me. So you would say, I think, that later on we have added to Mark’s Jesus by Mt and Lk a whole Q based ideology of Jesus the Teacher that is not historically valid. Fair enough. And Mark himself adds a whole Crucified/Risen ideology to Jesus from his chapter 8 onward that surely did not reflect the reality of any historical Jesus either.

      The difference between you and me, or at least one main difference, is that I think that Jesus the Teacher and Jesus the Crucified and Risen were added onto an existing possessed exorcist historical Jesus who had a bunch of associates who found themselves starting a Pentecostal movement that had such radical success that they retrospectively assumed that there had to be much much more to their actual founder than they had known at first. So he was given Teachings to teach and a resurrection to endure and a place at the right hand of God from whence to send the Spirit to all and sundry. But since He didn’t actually have any program of teachings to speak of, we have an instant proliferation of extremely diverse Christianities at the outset, and possibly also some sort of pre-Christian Christ cult that Paul declares that he joined (cf.Galatians 1:22-24 and the Odes of Solomon(?)).

      I really do think this is a simpler hypothesis than the hypothesis that this Jesus figure was wholly fictional, even if virtually everything about the Jesus figure is, we agree, fictional.


      1. Hello Stevan,

        I would have to disagree that your scenario is simpler, if only because the redactionary nature of the Q document indicates that whoever was assigned to the foundation of the movement comes along only in secondary stages of the document’s history. And Q also contains sayings which identify the beginning of the movement with John the Baptist, not with a Jesus/exorcist character (see Lk./Q 16:16 = Matt. 11:12), and the opening Baptist pericope where he prophecies the Coming One as an entirely heavenly figure, not yet on the scene. It would seem that this sort of thing is incompatible with your scenario.

        You seem also to suggest that the Q1 “collection” was assigned to the sect’s exorcist Jesus at a later time, to broaden their picture of the founder figure. In one respect, the feasibility of this might be increased by the fact that the collection seems to have been taken from an outside source, namely one of Cynic derivation. It came to the sect more or less as a whole. I happen to think that it was adopted (and only marginally adapted) by the kingdom-preaching sect very early on, as a welcome ethical dimension within their preaching of the kingdom. (Perhaps among the founders of the sect there were some with links to the Cynic philosophical movement, who knows.)

        But in adapting the Q1 collection (we don’t know the form in which it came to them) to provide the sect with a “wisdom/ethical” dimension, we still have to ask why a tie-in was not made on its adoption to the perceived teacher who supposedly spoke those sayings, no tie-in with his career and with other aspects of that career, such as exorcist activities. Why is it so bare bones?

        As for Q2 and 3 being entirely secondary, this need not be entirely the case. Certainly, it makes no sense, as some (like the Jesus Seminar) suggest, that Q1 represents the sect’s (and Jesus’) entire message for a time, one that lacked the distasteful aspects of exorcism, fire-and-brimstone preaching, and crude apocalyptic prophecy, these being later additions to the sect’s thinking after its message was rejected and imposed upon the purity (i.e., acceptable to the 20th century mind) of the original teaching of Jesus. I have no doubt that from the beginning, this sect preached an apocalyptic message, claimed the performance of miracles, and pronounced its own prophetic warnings. It was only after some time that a literary impulse took place, and those elements of the sect’s activities were committed to paper and added to the already existing discrete wisdom collection reflected in Q1. Thus in terms of “literary history”, Q2 was secondary, but it would certainly have contained elements which in terms of “tradition history” went back to the beginning of the sect. It’s just that those elements did not take literary form right away. And by the time they did, things had started evolving.

        (In light of this, you can see that I agree with your judgement that Q1 hardly began the sect or provided enough meat to get a real movement going.)

        It’s that evolution which must be pieced together by a study of the surviving version of Q, to see what elements could conceivably go back to the beginning of the sect, and what was developed later. In my view, any founder Jesus, no matter how he is styled or what personal features he is accorded, is a later addition. Those Q2 sayings which look back not to a Jesus but to John the Baptist as the sect’s original mentor, are among the most crucial indicators.

        You focus on a Jesus who was an exorcist, although Q puts as much emphasis on other aspects involved in preaching the kingdom, and in fact Q is actually quite light on references to demon possession let alone on actual recounting of exorcist miracles. Far more space is devoted to prophecies of the kingdom’s coming, rants against the establishment, etc. If exorcism was the original raison d’etre, why has so little tradition about those activities found its way into the Q document?


      2. >>> Good point about the redactional structure of Q demonstrating its existence over against the Farrer hypothesis of Luke’s use of Matthew. I must remember this when and if I ever converse with Goodacre again. (Another Crosstalk veteran).

        1. Documents that exist have a redactional structure.
        2. Q has a redactional structure.
        3. Therefore Q existed.

        Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. That, and the truth of statement #1 is debateable (not everything in the New Testament has a “redactional structure”, probably).

        1. The fallacy is that of the undistributed middle term not affirming the consequent. But you have the first statement mis-stated. It should be all documents that have a redactional structure are documents that exist. The way you wrote it is trivially false for there are documents that exist that do not have redactional structures.
          “All documents that have a redactional structure are documents that exist.
          Q is a document with a redactional structure.
          Therefore Q exists.”
          That is valid although probably it begs the question.

            1. I published a review of Craffert’s book awhile back but I don’t remember details. As I recall I complimented him for coming up with a new approach, but did not agree that the approach was correct.

              My problem with the shaman thesis is that as far as I am concerned a shaman journeys in trance to another realm and returns and does this for the benefit of others. This does fit to a degree with the subsequent Christian view that He rose into heaven and enables others to enter, or that he died, entered hell, brought the gospel to the dead, and returned. But as for the historical Jesus, I don’t see any reports anywhere that appear to me to be shamanistic. While shamans can also be spirit possessed, I think the two categories are different and that they should not be confused.


              1. Crafters has a recent article in JSHJ you might look at. Defenses of the anthropology approach to religion are useful, with him and Eliade, etc.. Carefup about defining things too narrowly. Jesus could be said to have linked to the holy spirit in heaven.
                Anthropology deals with hundreds of rather different cultures, and allows broad definitions therefore.

                Also baptism relates to purification, as a mild exorcism.

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