Is Jesus’ Itinerancy a Secure Fact or a Narrative Device?

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by Tim Widowfield

Scholars who study the historical Jesus will sometimes compile lists of minimal “secure facts” — the few things we can be reasonably certain “must be” true about the life of Christ. At the barest minimum, we have: “An itinerant Jewish teacher or preacher from Galilee who was crucified by Pilate.”

In the words of E. P. Sanders:

We have seen that the gospels depict Jesus and his disciples as itinerant. Some or all of them had homes and families, but they spent a lot of time on the road, and there is no mention of their working during Jesus’ active career. In part they were busy proclaim­ing the kingdom; in part the condition of the call of the close disciples was that they give up everything. (Sanders 1993, p. 107)

Bricks and mortar

The overwhelming number of NT scholars today would likely tell us that the reason the gospels portray a traveling Jesus is that such a portrayal reflects reality. But recently, while reading Redactional Style in the Marcan Gospel by E. J. Pryke, it struck me that many of the key redactional elements in Mark, our first narrative gospel, have to do with time and place. In other words, when Mark joined his stories together he needed some brief connecting language to create some sort of flow. Changing the time and place provides an implicit explanation for a change in subject and audience.

Mark, as you know, frequently didn’t care to elaborate on these shifts in place and time. In fact, quite often he barely takes the time to say Jesus and his cohorts “immediately” went from location A to location B.

And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. (Mark 1:29, NASB)

Redaction critics look for linguistic markers (peculiar usage, telltale vocabulary, etc.) that would tend to signify the parts of the gospels that are probably redactional. In other words, they look for indicators that help discriminate between the story-bricks and the redaction-mortar that holds them together.

Each evangelist had his own set of quirks. Pryke notes that Mark, for example, had a habit of using the genitive absolute when introducing a new pericope. In a nutshell, the genitive absolute is a short participial phrase unrelated to the main clause except, in Mark’s case, as a kind of introductory scene-setting device. In Mark 5:2, for example, we have:

καὶ ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου . . .

kai exelthontos autou ek tou ploiou . . .

And having-gone-forth him out of the boat . . .

All of the words above other than “kai” and “ek” are in the genitive case. The marker here is exelthontos, which is an active aorist participle in the masculine genitive case.

The genitive absolute occurs rarely in Mark’s source material (5 times), but much more frequently in his redactional glue (24 times). Pryke explains:

The fact that most of these genitive absolutes are to be found opening the pericope, and that their subject matter is chronological or topographical or comments on the ‘progress of the gospel’, as well as the literary nature of the genitive absolute, suggest that the editor is opening his pericope with a linking phrase, and thus developing material which was originally without time or place references, so as to make of it a continuous narrative.

A few examples will illustrate the function of the construction.

4:35, commencing a new section, reads — ‘That day, when evening came . . . ‘;

5:2‘When He came out of the boat . . . ‘;

5:21‘When Jesus had crossed over in the boat . . . ‘;

5:35 — ‘While He was still speaking, they came . . . ‘;

6:2‘And when the sabbath came He began to teach . . . ‘;

6:54‘And when they disembarked from the boat . . . ‘;

8:1‘In those days the multitude again being great, and having nothing to eat, . . . ‘;

9:9‘On their way down the mountain, . . .’;

10:17‘And as He was going forth for His journey . . . ‘;

10:46‘And as He was going forth to Jericho, and His disciples and much people . . .’;

11:12‘And on the morrow when they came out from Bethany . . .’;

11:27‘And in the temple as He was walking about, there . . .’;

13:1‘And as He was going out of the temple . . .’;

13:3‘And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives over against the temple . . .’;

14:3‘And when He was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He lay at table . . .’;

14:17‘And when it was evening . . .’;

14:22‘And as they were eating . . .’;

14:43‘And forthwith, as He was still speaking . . .’;

14:66‘And whilst Peter is below . . .’;

15:42‘And when it was already evening, since it was the preparation . . . ‘

All these short clauses, constructed in the participial genitive absolute, link the previous pericope to the new section which originally existed independently of them, their presence being superfluous to the story, and their only raison d’être to move on the ‘Gospel’ narration with a semblance of time and place. (Pryke 1978, pp. 62-63, bold emphasis and reformatting mine)

In the view of Pryke and all other redaction and form critics, Mark’s source material consisted of some combination of oral and written tradition. Mark created the first narrative gospel from these scattered traditions, which, if they were written down at all, looked a lot like the Gospel of Thomas or the hypothetical sayings gospel, “Q.” That is to say, the community of believers collected brief snippets of events, sermons, sayings, etc., which in themselves rarely contained any reference to time or place.

The invention of the gospel and the re-invention of Jesus

Mark, then, invented the narrative gospel form by joining these traditions into a semi-coherent whole. But did he invent more than just the gospel? Paul, as we’ve noted many times here at Vridar, never refers to Jesus as a teacher, healer, or exorcist. NT scholars will point out that the oral traditions about Jesus — presumably, Mark’s source materials — have many cases in which Jesus teaches his disciples, heals the sick, and casts out demons. However, as we see from the results of redaction criticism, the first secure evidence of Jesus and his followers wandering about comes from Mark.

So now we should ask, where did the itinerant tradition come from? Did Mark “reconstruct” an authentic narrative forgotten in the Rich Oral Tradition™? Or did he invent it to tie disparate stories and sayings together?

Elijah in the Desert
Elijah in the Desert

Recall as well that Paul describes Jesus as lord and master, but never as prophet. By the time Christians began creating the narrative gospels, however, the character of Jesus took on the aspect of OT prophets. He teaches, he heals, and — just like the itinerant prophets of old — travels from place to place. In fact, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to Jesus’ path, as if he and his traveling Twelve are wandering like Moses and the twelve tribes. Yet, despite the admission that Mark invented the gospel form and the fact that redaction critics have clearly shown that Jesus’ itinerancy happens within Mark’s editorial mortar, the vast majority of historical Jesus scholars would probably agree that the Jesus-on-the-Move presented in the gospels is authentic.

I have argued that before the gospels, most Christians conceived of Jesus as a priestly or royal messiah. Only after the war with Rome and the destruction of the Temple did they begin to refashion his image into a prophetic messiah. One of the defining characteristics of a prophet, of course, is the tendency to move from place to place, especially in the countryside — sometimes alone in the wilderness or on mountaintops.

I have also argued that the evidence we have can support neither the historicity of Jesus nor the outright denial of his existence. The best a historian can do is to ask, “If Jesus existed, what can we know about him?” Given the above evidence, I think we have to say that we can’t know that Jesus was an itinerant figure. It’s just as likely, if not more likely, that Mark invented the traveling Jesus while inventing the narrative gospel form and while re-imagining Christ as an Old-Testament prophet type.

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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48 thoughts on “Is Jesus’ Itinerancy a Secure Fact or a Narrative Device?”

  1. Okay, so “An itinerant Jewish teacher or preacher from Galilee who was crucified by Pilate” becomes
    “A Jewish teacher or preacher from Galilee who was crucified by Pilate.”

    Of course, Irenaeus has Jesus dying under the reign of Claudius (41-54), Suetonius has Chrestus in Rome during the reign of Claudius and Tacitus calls Pontius Pilate a “procurator” and we know that there were no procurators until 44 C.E., the reign of Claudius. We also have the writer of the John Gospel and Irenaeus insisting that Jesus was 50 when he died. Assuming his birth around the death of Herod, we again find early sources saying or implying that Jesus died in the time of Claudius. If it was in the time of Claudius than Pilate could not have crucified him. So we cannot be sure of that. Let us say “A Jewish teacher or preacher from Galilee who was crucified.”

    Of course, there is that whole barrabas thing suggesting that a robber was crucified in Jesus’ place, so we cannot be sure that he was crucified. Also Jews would have stoned him, so maybe the Jesus crucified thing was just a way of pinning his death on the Romans.

    Well, at least we know “A Jewish Teacher or preacher from Galilee.”

    Of course there’s the problem of the fake census in Luke that never occurred, so Jesus might have been from Bethlehem in Judea and Galilee the revision.

    This leaves us positive that Jesus was a Jewish teacher or preacher. Of course there are those cynic elements and some Egyptian stories and the fact that he is not mentioned in the talmud.

    Well, we can at least say Jesus was a teacher or preacher. Of course, we can’t be certain that this was not just the occupation that the character was given, just as Henry Higgins was a teacher in George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” which was based on the mythical story of Pygmalion and Galatea.

    I think we can truly say without much fear of being wrong, that Jesus was either based on a real person or a fictional character or some combination of both, or several.

    We are certainly on safe ground by saying that Jesus was a teacher or preacher.

    1. Sorry, the last line was a typo.

      The post should have ended with my certain declaration that Jesus was either based on a real person or a fictional character or some combination of both, or several real and/or fictional characters or numerous real and/or fictional characters. You can bet on it.

    2. “and the fact that he is not mentioned in the talmud.”

      But he IS mentioned in the Talmud….as living 100 years too early and being stoned for sorcery.

  2. > …there is no mention of their working during Jesus’ active career…

    That is also the kind of thing that tends to get tossed from narratives anyhow. All you have to do is establish that they’re just normal Joe’s (fishermen and what not) and move on from there, like on Friends – you only know they have jobs when it is relevant to the plot.

  3. There are about 100 distinguishable characters in GMark. There would seem to be only two polar possibilities within a (magical-)realist telling: Jesus goes to those people or those people come to Jesus.

    Master storyteller that he is, Mark plays within that constraint, ringing changes, mixing initiative. For example, Jesus sails to the Gerasene shore; the demoniac there runs to greet him.

    Mark also uses the contrasting image of a stationary Jesus to powerful effect, climaxing in the ultimate stationary-ness: a dying man fixed to a stake or cross. Later on, his corpse is placed in a tomb, only to have it turn out that Jesus has one more walkie left in him after all.

    Dogmatists need a passive Mark, gathering up stories he neither created nor improved, rooted (of course) in what really happened. Dog-Mark can at most contribute “mortar” to the “bricks” that the Holy Spirit provides him. And God bless those chatty church types who kept the facts intact until Mark wrote them down.

    Baloney. The real Mark actively engaged with the materials he fashioned into the story he told. His “mortar” is a work of craftsmanship, integrated into the well-wrought tale he narrates for us. No bricks and mortar in this wall: it’s concrete, baby.

  4. Good post. But a question that comes to mind when reading that GMark invented the gospel form is: which GMark? Is the GMark that comes to us today what it always was?

    I’m partial to the thesis presented here, and I wonder what others think about it:


    The idea being that Marcion’s gospel was not a proto-Luke, but rather a proto-Mark. It’s a neat and tidy sort of solution (and therefore probably wrong), but the original GMark given its name because its source was Marcion. And proto-Mark, for its part, as a set of cryptic allegories about Simon Magus. ‘Marcion’ comes into possession of these allegories (‘gospel’) and champions them at the same time they are being used as a basis for other more developed ‘gospels’ including GMark. Marcion with his diminutive inherits a Simonian tradition…Simon himself using the diminutive (Atomus, Paulus) in some sort of dialectical balance to his great importance, the ‘gospel’ being a concept derived from Simon’s Great Proclamation. Etc.

    As far as this post goes, it’s an open question whether the itinerancy that imposes a sort of shoddy temporal and spatial consistency on the various allegories/episodes/pericopes was present in proto-Mark or only came later with GMark. I would love to see a reconstruction of proto-Mark based on Parvus here and with this supposition in mind.

  5. A not-wandering historical Jesus has to be more famous and less “invisible” and/or insignificant to some writer of the time, because he would be linked more easily with the particular place (Jerusalem?) where he lived and preached and died. Therefore the case for historicity becomes more difficult if you deny evidence of a wandering HJ.

  6. It is a good post. I am sure that the travels of Jesus in Mark are just a narrative device to link together episodes rather than reflecting any geographical memory. However, I think there is abundant evidence that the followers of Jesus were itinerant.

    First, we have the evidence of Mark 6:7-13 where Jesus sends out his disciples to travel two by two. There is no narrative reason for this, so I think it must reflect a tradition that the disciples did wander around.

    Then we have the evidence of Paul’s letters. Paul clearly moves around a lot, as do his companions. So some early Christians, at least, spent their life travelling from place to place.

    Another piece of evidence is the Didache, where apostles and prophets are itinerant: a true prophet is to only stay one or two days, but not three. Admittedly, this might be a bit later (c100) and dependent upon Mark, but it must also reflect everyday experience. So at this time there were many Christian teachers on the road, staying with supporters for a night or two but no more.

    Most important of all is the evidence of the Gospel of Thomas. There are a number of sayings that reflect the imperative to keep moving:

    42. Jesus said: “Become passers-by.”

    86. Jesus said: “The foxes have their dens and the birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head and to rest.”

    14. … And if you go into any land and walk in its regions, if they should receive you, eat what they set before you. …

    Also relevant is Thomas 31:

    31. Jesus said: “No prophet is accepted in his own village; a physician does not heal those who know him.”

    This has been shown to be the source behind the story of Jesus returning to his hometown in Mark 6:1-6. The original Thomas saying was not, however, about Jesus but aimed at the individual disciple. When they join the Jesus movement, they must take to the road, and leave the safety and comfort of their old home behind them.

    Presumably, because the followers of Jesus moved around a lot it was assumed by the author of Mark that Jesus must have done the same.

    SP Laurie
    Blog: http://www.splaurie.com

    1. Yes, I do think the fact that Jesus’ followers were itinerant is a strong reason for Mark thinking the same of the “founder.” So that reason would join the other reasons — itinerancy as a narrative device and itinerancy as a necessary, defining characteristic of a prophet.

      In fact, some percentage (mythicists would say 100%) of the sayings of Jesus came from itinerant prophets who preached in his name. I would also argue that the sayings of John the Baptist and Jesus became part of a shared pool. Consider, for example Acts 11:16 — And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

      In the gospels, that was a saying by JTB about Jesus. Now it’s supposed to be a saying by Jesus and about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

      1. There are several motivations for itinerancy as a story point, but it simply isn’t a necessary or defining feature of Jewish Bible prophets known to Mark.

        The first prophet mentioned in GMark is Isaiah, not known chiefly for his travels. The saying attributed to Isaiah near the outset also recalls Malachi, never named but not forgotten (here, it’s his 3:1, his 2:14-16 is a possible source for Mark’s Jesus’ take on divorce, and his 3:22-24 may have informed Mark’s Moses-Elijah material). Malachi’s lifestyle is unknown, itinerant or otherwise. Daniel, who comes up frequently and plainly shapes Mark’s Jesus’ mission-concept, wasn’t an itinerant, either.

        Nor was itinerancy required for Mark to associate a “present day” character with prophets. John the Baptist wasn’t itinerant, but was linked with Jewish Bible prophets throughout GMark. To the extent John “is” Elijah, their itinerancy statuses contrast, not coincide. Both contrast and coincidence are widely used narrative devices.

        1. I think aMark got Mark 10:11-12 from 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 as it has a prohibition against women divorcing and would have been an issue the Corinthians would have faced since it was allowed in their world. I think Paul would have been thinking of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which has no provision for women divorcing. Paul sometimes uses “the Lord said” when he quotes scripture as seen in 1 Corinthians 14:21 which is actually quoting Isaiah 28:11-12. But I think Paul was probably influenced by Malachi 2:14-16. We know Paul read Malachi as attested by the Romans 9:13 quote of Malachi 1:2-3.

          Do you mean Malachi 4:5-6 for Mark 9:11-12?

          Paul uses “we” in 1 Corinthians 9:2-6 and speaks of “Barnabas and I”. He also mentions Barnabas in Galatians 2 where earlier he had mentioned that two men were sent by James. Just two more data points. Just brainstorming.

          1. Hi, Greg

            Mark’s Jesus forbids both men and women from remarrying after divorce (10:11-12). A plausible strong influence for the terms of the legislation is, as you say, 1 Corithians 7:10-12. Paul’s Lord regulates both sexes; but unlike Mark’s Jesus, seems to forbid any divorce at all for men (maybe), and forbids women to remarry with divorce discouraged.

            Paul offers no argument for his rule except that his Lord says so. Mark gives his Jesus a Genesis-based argument, whose conclusion isn’t implied by the cited passage, but is an admissible interpretation of Malachi 2:14-15. That’s addressed only to men, but the force of its argument would be gender-neutral in places where women could divorce.

            Mark tidies this all up, with his Jesus imposing a clearly gender-neutral rule, as the logic of an appeal to Genesis would seem to require. That is what I meant by “take,” sorry if I was unclear.

            > Do you mean Malachi 4:5-6 for Mark 9:11-12?

            Yes, Malachi is numbered differently in different versions. The systems don’t overlap, so numbering is unambiguous either way. The difference only affects 3:19 ff. (= 4:1 ff.)

        2. You make some valid points here, and I need to adjust my post. Mark, as many authors have pointed out, does seem to use the Elijah pattern, specifically. The general pattern, though, is more like the itinerant prophets of the Northern Kingdom, who “troubled” the kings of Israel. The initial source of the pattern may be Moses himself — or perhaps even the patriarchs.

          But your contention that JTB was not itinerant flies in the face of the consensus. John had no fixed address, wandered in the wilderness, ate like a hunter-gatherer, and baptized somewhere “along the Jordan.” He is often described in the scholarly literature as “an itinerant prophet.”

          1. And then we have the possibility that the John the Baptist passages were an addition to ground an “ur-mark” Jesus in the “Jewish Scriptures”.

          2. Hi, Tim

            Thanks for the kind words.

            Being called out for supporting the wrong side of a scholarly consensus hereabouts is delicious. That said, the amount of travel described by Mark for his Jesus is much larger than for his John. Nevertheless, Mark succeeds at imparting “prophet-resemblance” on both characters, IMO.

            On that basis, I don’t concur that a hypothetical amount of narrated travel “needed” for prophet-resemblance (at most John’s amount) explains the much larger amount of travel that Mark narrates for Jesus.

            Jesus and John are both in the bright-idea dissemination business, with parallel ideas, but they adopt fundamentally different dissemination strategies (“go to people” versus “make people come to you”). From that strategic contrast follows a different emphasis in their missions’ activities.

            Jesus’ approach makes a healing ministry feasible. Physically and mentally compromised people can still get to where he is, and a healing ministry develops organically within a well-crafted narrative.

            John’s strategy imposes a de facto prerequisite of physical as well as spiritual readiness for the encounter. That meshes nicely with Josephus’ explanation of John’s signature baptism as a capstone where physical elements complement spiritual achievement.

            1. ” the amount of travel described by Mark for his Jesus is much larger than for his John”

              And Spiderman has more coverage in his own title than he has in X-Men.

      2. Good point. The words of itinerant preachers, apostles, speaking the words of a Jesus Christ as afforded them in visions, voices, ecstasies. One could postulate the creation of an historical Jesus locatable in a certain time and place as a necessity to codify, control, delimit said “inspirations” for the sake of preserving community cohesion, apostolic authority. This explanation will have been true whether there actually WAS an historical Jesus or not, and surely the visionaries DID believe a Christ to have “appeared” in some sense.

    2. The Didache … might be a bit later (c100) and dependent upon Mark….

      Nothing beyond a need to link Mark to putative ‘oral traditions’ requires a pre-100 dating. The Little Apocalypse can just as easily refer to the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt as to the Great Revolt — some argue more so. If Jesus hanged beside two criminals is taken to derive from Josephus’ account of discovering three of his friends crucified — especially if Joseph of Arimathea’s name is a play on Josephus ben Matthias — then the t.a quo’s of those two pericopes at least are 135 & c. 100 respectively. In which case, the gospels’ depictions of itinerant apostles are likely derivative of the true-life situation reflected in the Didache.


      GThomas is the elephant in the room historicists and apologists try so hard to downplay. They posit a ‘sayings gospel’ (Q), yet when a sayings gospel is discovered, they dismiss it as a late work. Why? Because some of those sayings are highly problematic. Common sense dictates GThomas did not crib off the canonical gospels, rather was a source from which the canon writers picked & chose. A post-canon Thomas requires an unidentified third source. (Hello again, mysterious Q!)

      Presumably, because the followers of Jesus moved around a lot it was assumed by the author of Mark that Jesus must have done the same.

      Exactly — if the author of Mark is trying to flesh out his story, he draws from elements found elsewhere. There might be more to this, though, as we may have two converging lines. If sayings are attributed (correctly or spuriously) to a ‘Jesus’, then a pre-gospel ‘Jesus’ had to exist in concept at least. And, if Mark is a veiled retelling of the mission of Simon Magus, does Thomas preserve the sayings of Simon Magus — who, recall, was accused by the heresiologists of claiming to be Christ?

      1. The comment here about GMark as a reflection of Simon Magus makes me wonder: what if the historical Jesus [sic] weren’t in fact created to forge a chain of apostolic succession, and weren’t created out of the assumption that every movement has a founder — but were in fact created in order to oppose Simon Magus’ claim to ‘be’ Jesus. You can imagine the assertion of a historical Jesus as a way to counter in a sort of confused way a prior assertion that Simon Magus ‘was’ Jesus (was inhabited by a spirit called Jesus or alternately inhabited by a certain heavenly spirit by virtue of which Simon was ‘Jesus’ as title).

        If there were a Simon Magus/Jesus gospel (proto-Mark), and maybe a splinter group to the Simonians, the ‘maximally conservative’ hypothesis might be that they took an already esoteric ‘gospel’ and out of their hatred for the Simonians along with their already obscure doctrine behind the text, simply retained it, insisting that Simon Magus wasn’t the ‘Jesus’. Letting the text speak for itself (with some small changes made inevitably right off the bat) an esoteric proto-Mark would have begun to mutate into what it already sort of resembled by accident: a gospel about a flesh-and-blood Jesus.

        1. Hi R Pence,

          I have thought the same thing!

          ”Mark” euhemerized Jesus to contrast the insisting claim by II CE inspired prophets of being one with the Son of God.

          Celsus’s Jew (II CE, differently from Celsus who is from III CE) gives evidence about the ”many .. who, although of no name, with the greatest facility and on the slightest occasion, whether within or without temples, assume the motions and gestures of inspired persons; while others do it in cities or among armies, for the purpose of attracting attention and exciting surprise. These are accustomed to say, each for himself, ‘I am God; I am the Son of God; or, I am the Divine Spirit; (VII, 9)

          Note that the contrary could happen, too. Against the proto-catholic claim that *only* Jesus was the ”one called Christ”, other Christians claimed that John the Baptist was the Christ, that Simon Magus was the Christ, that even Judas (or Mary Magdalene, or Thomas) was the best disciple of Jesus (and not Peter). This is not evidence that Simon Magus, John the Baptist, Judas or Mary Magdalene existed and had real followers. This is evidence that any name of the proto-catholic propaganda had be used against the same proto-catholics, to reiterate the point that all the inspired prophets were free of claiming identity with Christ. In II CE.

          Curiously, in I CE there were not ”inspired prophets” like those described by Celsus’s Jew. Only military rebels, but not prophets.

          1. Ciao Giuseppe – Have you ever taken a look at this?


            I really don’t have time to master the details of GMark. But it seems to me that it’d make sense if Marcion’s gospel were, in fact, a proto-Mark. After all, if Marcion were a latter-day Simonian and if he ‘discovered’ his gospel, and if GMark were originally based on Simon Magus, then one would think Marcion’s gospel might be something like a proto-Mark. The above link goes to an analysis done by somebody (no idea who) who seems to think Marcion’s gospel was some version of Mark.


            1. In that case the incipit of proto-Mark would be without John the Baptist and without Naxaret. Without even the temptations in the wilderness (all proto-catholic additions). Simply Jesus would come down from heaven and meet the first disciples in Galilee. I know that the radical critic Van Manen thought so.

              1. A possible sequence of events: Galatians 1 was without a Paul who goes to Arabia and to Jerusalem three years after.

                Proto-Mark was written basing on the original Galatians, without the entire Mark 1 (see the comment above). Jesus who appears in Galilee the first time (in proto-Mark) is simply allegory of the archangelic Jesus who appears to Paul everywhere Paul is, out the Judea (and “Galilee” represents all the known world but also the world of the spirit freed by the spiritual tiranny of Jerusalem).

                The proto-catholis inserted the Paul who went to Arabia and then to Jerusalem, in Gal 1.

                And proto-Mark became our Mark, with Jesus also going to his “Arabia”.

                Note that the editor of proto-Mark continued to have “Paul” in mind, when he added the baptism and the temptations of Jesus.

              2. I’m not competent to comment on this, but I tend to think that if anything, Mark was based on the more salient elements of the Simon Magus story. Simon the magician, Simon with his Helen (Mary Magdelene), etc. etc.

              1. I’ve wondered about this also…. Whether, for example, Eisenman’s Paul-as-Herodian with Queen Helena of Adiabene, etc., didn’t somehow get blown way out of proportion.

  7. Jesus and his followers wandering around agrees with the idea that one of the principle issues of Jesus’ mission was reaching the maximum number of converts possible. Hence Jesus says in Mark: “Come, follow Me, Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

  8. Gospel of Mark’s itinerant by choice Jesus smells like post-revolt reputation repair to me. If the narrative in the gospel of John, rather than synoptic narrative, is taken as correct, then Jesus was man on the run, after he staged an attempted putsch in the temple. He was on the move for two or three years, periodically resurfacing and then hiding again, until he made his final appearance in Jerusalem. The Romans, fed up with the Temple establishment’s inability to deal with him, sent a cohort after him and captured him, staged a show trial, and then summarily executed him.
    Jesus was probably no different than all the other failed messianic claimants, most of whom had a violent agenda, listed in Josephus’ “jewish war” and “jewish antiquities”. They came to the attention of the occupying Romans or their puppets, and were hunted down and were either killed or disappeared (for example: Hezekiah, Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Judas the Galilean, John the Baptist, the Samaritan, Theudas, the Egyptian prophet, Menahem, John of Gischala, Simon bar Giora, Jonathan the weaver).

    1. Jesus was probably no different than all the other failed messianic claimants…

      Which raises the question whether Jesus of the gospels is no more than a fictional pastiche of these failed messianic claimants.

  9. In response to Matt Cavanaugh’s 2017-03-21 19:20:14 UTC – 19:20 comment “— especially if Joseph of Arimathea’s name is a play on Josephus ben Matthias — “:
    Given that אֲבִי (Avi) in Hebrew means “my father” in Hebrew,Josephus of Arimathea is most likely due to a poorly translated, poorly transliterated “Joseph’s father Matthew”.

  10. Sorry, I should have typed:
    “Given that אֲבִי (Avi) means “my father” in Hebrew, Joseph of Arimathea is most likely due to a poorly translated, poorly transliterated “Joseph’s father Matthew”.”
    I beg your forgiveness.
    Or as suggested above a lisped Joseph’s abba (father) Matthew. Admittedly, some hand-waving is required to properly deal with the possessive case and word order in a transmutation from Aramaic or Hebrew to Greek, but I am pretty sure it can be done in a convincing manner.
    I think there are previous posts on this site about uni and multi-lingual synoptic pusn and twisted transliterations.
    Blessings to all.

    1. And I was mistaken: it is ‘bar’, not ‘ben’. So, Josephus [b] ar [i] matth [ias/ea] — or whatever that looks like in Greek.

      Note: this is not my deduction, but I’m blanking on who first proposed it.

  11. [Bumping out of the deep nesting to respond to R Pence and Guiseppe]

    Definitely an order of succession was created by the Roman sect, claiming it was founded by Peter who had been designated as successor by Jesus Himself. That requires a flesh & blood Jesus.

    In the redactional battle over Mark can be found the traces of a bitter rivalry between two antipodal, contemporaneous Jesus cults — the ebionite/law-zealous cult led by James, then Simon Peter, and the gnostic, hellenic cult of Simon Magus / Paul. The conflict between Paul and the ‘Pillars’ we can take as essentially real. (Also echoed in the Peter vs. Simon Magus conflict in the Clementines). The former cult would have imagined a mortal messiah. Perhaps around 40 – 66 they identified an actual person as such, perhaps a flesh & blood Jesus was conceptualized only later.

    Ur-Markus would thus be a marcionite mocking response to this man-Jesus, filled with inside allusions to Simon Magus and the docetic Christ. Peter, the apostles, the Jews, all fail to recognize who Jesus truly is. Romans, other foreigners, those whose afflictions bar them from the temple, get it. The Jews’ selection of Jesus Barabbas over Jesus (bar Abba) symbolizes their mistaken adherence to the man-Jesus over the spirit-Christ. The implausibility of the pseudo-historical elements might themselves serve as parody. The sect in Rome, drawing authority from Jesus > Peter, would be compelled to redact Marcion’s gospel to strengthen the historical element. As Ur-Markus was already too widely known and popular, they were limited in how much they could redact. (Though adding 16:9-20 was a stroke of genius.) Instead, they wrote Matthew then Luke to further ground Jesus as historical and of the flesh.

    Anyway, something like that.

    1. But it has to be a bit sloppier than that, no? Supposing there was no ‘historical’ Jesus, but that a flesh-and-blood figure – maybe a coming one – was at stake in beliefs of the James faction… I find it it hard to believe that this group would be warring directly with a Magus-oriented group in the usual sense as there would be zero symmetry between them. A coming flesh-and-blood Jewish messiah vs. a spirit (of God or of some high angel) that comes down and possesses people giving them power… What I mean to say is that if they were warring it was not because of a Jerusalem church that had an internal schism, i.e. how James vs. Paul is typically portrayed. Rather, the two cults would have had different points of origin and come into conflict only because they shared the same milieu and/or both lay claim to a particular name (‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’?) as part of the internal organization of their doctrines.

      In such a scenario, we move away from an Eisenman-like situation where Magus/Paul splits from the James faction in order to run wild with a more viable cultic movement, and instead you just have two cults of many with different points of origin that came into conflict.

      Re: the chain of succession: something can function in a particular way without being part of its original conception. A historical Jesus certainly functions (perhaps later) to guarantee a variety of claims of order of succession. But the historical Jesus concept itself may simply have arisen by accident.

      1. It is sloppy, and I doubt we will ever sort it out beyond a vague sketch. Just as we likely will never get the full intent of docetic ‘inside jokes’ like Mark 14:51-52.

        Indeed, no — Paul vs. James was not an internal schism. The picture of an homogenous 1st century Jewish faith is imo false. Paul / Simon Magus is working within a fusion of the Samaritan and hellenist mindset. I think Eisenman may have taken the ‘Paul as Herodian mole’ hypotheses a bit too far, yet Paul’s Herodian connection, as alluded to in the epistles, cannot be ignored.

        So, yes — two cults arise pretty much independently, though Paul definitely infringes on what James considers his turf (whether intentionally or incidentally, IDK.)

        Based on the snippets we have of James’ pronouncements, and assuming that his community is linked to the writers of the DSS, a flesh & blood Joshua redivivus was anticipated but had not yet arrived. Again, it is uncertain whether one or more of the ‘messian-ish’ figures of the 1st century was identified as such, or as you say, the historical Jesus arose by happenstance.

        1. Further, I don’t see an historical Jesus* as necessary for the Petrine succession claim, but I do see room for one.

          * NB: ‘historical’ only in the sense that at least some folks believed a certain actual person was he. Not in the sense that the Jesus of Nazareth as described in the gospels is in any way accurate.

        2. But to expand on my earlier point, I do see the marcionite Ur-Markus as a direct response to a belief in a flesh & blood Jesus. So by mid- 2nd century such a belief had arisen and was current in certain circles. It did not arise simply from a misreading of Mark

          1. I am meditating about the reason Paul called the Pillars as “the poors”, given the fact that the later ebionites (“the poors”) had “reduced” the archangel Jesus to a mere prophet (not even adopted by God). Were the Pillars already euhemerizing the angel Jesus against a living Paul? Note that I don’t think that the book of Revelation would reflect an hypothetical gospel of the Pillars (Revelation may be only a late proto-catholic book against Hadrian).

            At any case, I see that in Paul Jesus is probably crucified during the night (when he was “delivered”) being the night also an optimal expedient to be not recognized by the archons of this age. And surprise: in Mark Jesus is crucified in full day. This is a precise signal: with the first Gospel, the mysteric cult decided to start the preaching of the cross in full light for the outsiders.

            1. The Qumran writers are already calling themselves the “poor” and the “simple ones doing Torah”.

              The later ebionite sect of whom the heresiologists write likely preserved the early concept of Jesus as mere prophet/mortal messiah. When the euhemerizing by the Jerusalem-Rome community took place is a good question.

              Everyone assumes Paul collects money for the indigent of Jerusalem; is this reference instead to a pay-off to the Pillars’ ebionite community?

              Revelation is an embarrassment — take away one interpolation and it has nothing in common with christianity. It is old: jewish-christian or jewish apocalyptic old.

            2. Yet we see very little evidence of the crucifixion being a central motif in early Christian art — in catacombs, on sarcophagi. Yet the pre-gospel Paul spoke of knowing nothing but Christ crucified.

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