1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. . . .
Actually I think using the Jewish form of the name began among historical Jesus scholars who were attempting to recreate some distinctive “Jewishness” of the historical figure. On the other hand, the Greek form “Jesus” has its own unique message: See
The most striking point for me about Avalos’s analysis of the concept of love as found in the Bible is his explanation of how it pertains more to an antiquated master-slave/lord-vassal relationship (or to use Thomas L. Thompson’s metaphor, a Mafia Godfather family relationship).
Far from being mutual or self-less, agape [=love]may describe behavior that entails violence, not to mention other hierarchical behaviors. Part of the reason for the change [towards the realization of this lord-vassal context of love] is that previous scholars had been too eager to divorce the New Testament use of agape from corresponding words and concepts in the Hebrew Bible. After all, Christianity was often thought to be bringing something radically new.
The word ‘love’ often designates the attitude and set of behaviors that a Lord expects from his vassal in the ancient Near East. (p. 39, my bolding in all quotations)
Avalos gives us a glimpse of an ancient Assyrian “treaty” (seventh century BCE) with a subject king:
The full treaties are of interest beyond the snippets quoted by Avalos. Notice below how the obligations they contain sound so very much like both the directives of the Bible’s “loving God” as well as “ideal love” in our sense of the word — if only they were not part of the master-slave “contract”:
You will not seek any other king or any other lord . . .
(You swear) that you . . . will die (for your lord). You will seek to do for him that which is good. That you will not do to him (anything which) is not good. . . .
(You swear) that you will love Ashurbanipal, the crown prince, son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, your lord as (you do) yourselves. That . . . you will not slander his brothers, his mother’s sons. That you will not speak anything that is not good about them . . .
Avalos asks readers to compare these sorts of sentiments with others we find attributed to Jesus. Disciples are to love God more than themselves, to die for Him, to have no other loyalties apart from their devotion to their Lord — to the extent of hating all prior loyalties such as parents — and, of course, to speak no evil. And curses are pronounced upon those who disobey just as they were threatened against the Assyrian vassals.
A very influential 1963 article by William Moran, “The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy” (CBQ 25.1 1963 pp. 77-87) is important for Avalos’s argument. I quote sections from that article directly:
Love in Deuteronomy is a love that can be commanded. It is also a love intimately related to fear and reverence. Above all, it is a love which must be expressed in loyalty, in service, and in unqualified obedience to the demands of the Law. For to love God is, in answer to a unique claim (6:4), to be loyal to him (11:1, 22; 30:20), to walk in his ways (10:12.; 11:22; 19:9; 30:16), to keep his commandments (10:12; 11:1,22; 19:9), to do them (11:22; 19:9), to heed them or his voice (11:13; 30:16), to serve him (10:12.; 11:1,13). It is, in brief, a love defined by and pledged in the covenant — a covenantal love.
Moran pointed towards implications this has for the teachings of Jesus in the gospels:
If . . . the old sovereign-vassal terminology of love is as relevant as we think it is, then what a history lies behind the Christian test of true agape — “If you love me, keep my commandments”!