2018-12-23

Examining the Evidence for Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet

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by Neil Godfrey

On History for Atheists Tim O’Neill has set out the standard reasons for the view that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He concludes that this particular portrayal of Jesus stands against what conservative and liberal Christians, and even “fringe Jesus Mythicists”, and “many people” generally “would like Jesus to be.” Put that way, one wonders why anyone in a field clearly dominated by academics of some form of Christian faith would find the idea at all respectable. O’Neill, however, assures us that scholars who hold this view are said to be unswayed by “any wish fullfilment (sic)”. Those who disagree are not doing genuine scholarship but looking for ways to rationalize a Jesus who fits their world view.

So Catholic scholars find a Jesus who establishes institutions, iniates (sic) sacraments and sets up an ongoing hierarchy of authority. Liberal Christian scholars find a Jesus who preaches social justice and personal improvement. And anti-theistic Jesus Mythicists find a Jesus who was never there at all.

O’Neill even uses the language of battle to defeat and lay to rest their arguments:

Now, as in Schweitzer’s time, almost all historical Jesus studies is either an endorsement of or a rear-guard action against the unavoidably powerful idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. . . . . But Schweitzer laid out the arguments against this tactic back in 1910 and more modern attempts to prop up this idea do not have any more strength than they had a century ago. . . . The liberal Christians of the “Jesus Seminar” have attempted a large-scale assault on the idea of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. . . . Marcus Borg has been at the forefront of these arguments . . . . Despite the rearguard actions of conservative and many progressive Christians . . . .

We are left with the image of the victorious scholar General, unswayed by any confessional or personal “wish fullfilment (sic)”, standing tall with his boot firmly planted on the defeated “wishes” of conservative and liberal Christians and fringe atheists alike.

We will see in coming posts that address O’Neill’s essay that it posits a rather crude and blunt conception of the nature of scholarly bias. Is finding a Jesus who agrees with our own world-view really the only form of bias to be expected in the pursuit of Christian origins? O’Neill’s language of warfare surely suggests it is.

O’Neill’s post is long and I have no intention of discussing every detail of it but I trust a few responses to some of its core ideas will be enough to alert readers to some of its flaws and weaknesses. In this post I want to point to a theme I have posted about many times before but will do so once more, this time with reference to what a specialist in Josephus studies has recently written about conditions in Palestine around the time of Jesus.

The setting for the popular welcome of an apocalyptic prophet 

O’Neill sets out the common view that Galilean peasants at the time of Jesus were seething with longing to be rid of their Roman oppressors and to be ruled once again “in liberty” as per the promises of their Scriptures. Thus an image is established at the outset of a population that was fertile ground for the seeds of the next apocalyptic prophets to appear on the scene, John the Baptist and Jesus. O’Neill even knows what scriptures and verses were subversively preached and emphasized and what was therefore in the minds of a critical mass of devout peasants of the day.

Devout Jews in this period had inherited a theology whereby they were the Chosen People of God who lived in the Promised Land granted to them by him. But by the time Herod Antipas came to rule Galilee, these ideas were difficult to reconcile with the realities of the average Jewish peasant’s existence.

To begin with, life for our peasant was hard. . . . it was difficult enough to scrape a living for them and their family by farming, herding or fishing, but they also had to pay heavy taxes to the Tetrarch Herod, who was the son of the hated King Herod the Great and, like his late father, a puppet ruler for the Roman Empire. This meant our peasant not only had to pay enough tax to keep Herod Antipas in luxury in his newly built capital of Tiberias – which he had named after his Roman patron, the emperor Tiberius – he also had to pay still more tax for Herod to pass on to his Roman masters. . . . . Not surprisingly, these taxes were resented and those who made a living collecting them were despised as corrupt quislings. The burden of heavy taxation meant that an increasing number of peasants had to give up farming their own land . . . . 

. . . . Just as under old Herod the Great, these men held their petty kingdoms as clients of the Roman emperor and were hated for it by most of their subjects. . . . Herod the Great’s sons were well aware of their unpopularity and also inherited their father’s talent for repression – spies were active, uprisings were crushed and troublemakers were dealt with swiftly and painfully.

But our peasant would have known that things had not always been this way. The scriptures he and his neighbours heard read and discussed each sabbath emphasised the ideas already mentioned – that as Jews they were God’s chosen and living in the land he promised to their ancestors. But in the period since the Jewish people had been conquered, dominated and often oppressed by a succession of foreign powers.

Such has been the standard view of Palestine among New Testament scholars for generations. What is the evidence for this scenario?

From Steve Mason in A History of the Jewish War A.D. 66-74

In exploring the war’s causes, we need to avoid seductively simplistic paths. Because Rome and Judaea ended up at war, it has usually seemed obvious that the Judaeans must have had serious grounds for complaint. For such a humble David to have taken on such a Goliath, these grievances must have become intolerable and finally popped the cork of rational restraint. In 1893 the eminent Heinrich Graetz put it thus:

In their native land, and especially in Jerusalem, the yoke of the Romans weighed heavily on the Judaeans, and became daily more oppressive…. The last decades exhibit the nation as a captive who, continually tormented and goaded on by his jailer, tugs at his fetters, with the strength of despair, until he wrenches them asunder. [Graetz, 2:223]

Although scholars have refined their explanations in countless ways, this picture has remained more or less intact. Leading military historians take it for granted that:

“Judaea caused incessant trouble to the Romans…. The people defended their religious identity and culture from the efforts of provincial authorities to impose Greek and Roman culture… .” [Dąbrowa, 9; Cf. Isaac 1992: 55: “[I]t is usually agreed, Rome encountered an unparalleled scale of continuous opposition.”]

The image of a Judaea seething with anti-Roman fervour has filtered out from scholarship into the best-researched novels and films, from Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) to Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), Boris Sagal’s Masada (1981), Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), and the television series Rome (2005). Who does not know that Judaeans, devoted to worshiping their God and following his Law in their land, could not abide Roman rule?

Although Roman legions undeniably came into lethal contact with Judaeans, deducing origins from outcomes is a well-known historian’s fallacy[See Fischer, David Hackett. 1970. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper. — Link is to full text online.]

As always, my purpose is not to advocate a single, exclusive truth about the war’s causes, but to invite the reader to think with me about the evidence and its plausible explanations.

Mason surveys the leading scholars responsible for this picture of first century Palestine — H. Graetz, E. Schürer, W.R. Farmer, M. Hengel, E. Baltrusch, M. Bernett . . . . and quotes a section from S.G.F. Brandon’s study that echoes scene presented by Tim O’Neill:

In 1970 S. G. F. Brandon considered it accepted wisdom that:

From the first imposition of Roman rule in A.D. 6, Jewish reaction had been adverse. . . . For subjection to Rome affronted the most cherished belief of their religion: that they were the Chosen People of their god Yahweh, who had given to them their Holy Land as their unique heritage. The only polity that could be consistent with this faith was a theocracy, in which Israel would be ruled for Yahweh by a godly high priest. .. . This ideal had been proclaimed in A.D. 6 by Judas of Galilee, the founder of Zealotism.

(p. 202: citing Brandon, S. G. F. 1970. “The defeat of Cestius Gallus: A Roman legate faced the problem of the Jewish revolt,” History Today 20: 38-46.)

While many scholars focused on the “thesis of holy zeal” as the primary cause of the war with Rome, others — H. Kreissig, R.A. Horsley — drew attention instead to socioeconomic conditions as the real cause of rebellion. Others fused the two factors, religious zeal and material oppression.

One would expect such a widely held view to rest on mountains of evidence. But as is so often the case in biblical studies, here, too, . . . The problem with the “Judaea seething with anti-Roman fervour” image is that there is precious little evidence for it. It is an assumption. The narrative consists of mountains of “would haves” and “must have beens” and “we can imagines”.

Mason quotes Martin Goodman on this lack of evidence:

Josephus’ declared intention was to explain the outbreak and course of the war from 66 to 70. . .. Far from omitting causes of conflict, he might be expected to make as much as he could of all the cases he could conceivably cite. . .. [T]he reason he could not describe any more blatantly revolutionary behaviour to support his picture of a decline into war was that no such revolutionary behaviour occurred. In fact, once Josephus’ historiographical purpose is recognized, what is striking is how little specific evidence he could cite of Jewish hostility to Rome before 66.

(Goodman 412-13, in Mason p. 209)

Mason questions Goodman’s analysis of “Josephus’ historiographical purpose” but does concur with the observation that Josephus provides no evidence for systemic Jewish hostility towards Rome.

Undetectable in War 2, as far as I can see, is any hint of blameworthy rebel-tyrants among Judaeans or any significant anti-Roman feeling. . . . Even while inviting his audience to feel the Judaeans’ plight, Josephus does not present either his people as mere victims . . . .

(p. 215 f)

Mason’s “realist” analysis of the evidence leads to the understanding that the problems between Jews and Romans lay in tensions over regional conflicts and miscommunications between leaders of Jerusalem and Rome. There is nothing unusual about autocrats stirring up popular ill-feeling and protests against their aristocratic enemies and Mason finds Josephus depicting this time-honoured situation in the various political tensions in the region of Syria, Judaea and Idumaea. A fuller discussion of those details belongs to a separate series of posts.

But since I suspect many readers will have Josephus’s reference to a “rebellion” by Judas the Galilean in mind I will try to present the main points of Mason’s discussion here. In brief, the popular protests in Jerusalem at that time were over the city elders having engineered the removal of the Herodian monarch Archelaus and handing Jerusalem over to Syrian control.

The popular protest only now, upon that annexation to Syria, suggests that the people had been relatively content with Archelaus, much as their compatriots in the north were content under Philip and Antipas. The change they were protesting was the removal of a ruler from Jerusalem and the annexation to Syria.

Although the implementation of the census may have been unpleasant and intrusive,176 it is unlikely that the main cause of such vehement protest was either a percentage of tax increase or an ideological aversion to census-taking, much less a belief that Judaea could tolerate no earthly ruler. No one has ever wished to pay taxes, but it is doubtful that these were going to increase greatly in A.D. 6, or be higher than other provincial levels, and the issue does not arise in Josephus.177 As for the prospect of a census, the biblical book of Numbers opens with one, and Judaeans must have submitted to many such registrations during long centuries of foreign rule.178 The possibility that Judas and Saddok would recognize no mortal ruler is a problem first because the popular unrest preceded their involvement. Second, such a platform would explain neither the previous five centuries nor the timing here.

It seems rather that the popular protests, which the charismatic pair reignited, were reactions to the changes that came in A.D. 6 with Archelaus’ removal, involving annexation to Syria and property registration. What these represented most obviously, in realist terms, was Jerusalem’s dramatic loss of status.

(pp. 248 f)

Then a few pages on,

I am proposing a hypothesis that would explain [Josephus’s] various indications, contextually and by analogy, as we try to figure out what was at stake in A.D. 6.

Scholarship has tended, we have seen, to assume a split between ordinary folk and the elite. But . . . [a]utocrats typically curried popular favour as a bulwark against the nobility, who were usually the main threat to monarchy.186

. . . . .

The aristocrat Josephus, unsympathetic to monarchy at the best of times, had no great interest in fairly explaining Judas’ or the people’s pro-Archelaus views. He was content to ridicule Judas, saddling him with the absurd platform of tolerating no earthly ruler and making him sound like a petulant teenager. If divine sovereignty or theocracy had been their goal, Judas and Saddok should have been delighted with the monarch’s removal and the arrival of priestly-collegial governance. Judas’ real concern and that of the people he inspired was, we have reason to think, more serious and more practical than Josephus suggests.

. . . . .

On such a reconstruction, the prevailing view of Judas as a voice of popular discontent would be correct, with the major qualification that Roman rule was not the concern.  …… Rather, Judas faded from view after A.D. 6 because his moment had passed.

186 In Rome, the emperors Gaius (Suetonius, Gains 15-21; Josephus, Ant. 19.115: “honoured and loved by the folly of the populace”) and Nero (Suetonius, Nero 53, 57; Tacitus, Ann. 1.4; 2.8; Josephus, Ant. 20.154), although hated by the elite and hence in western tradition, were reportedly very popular with the masses even as they acted brutally toward members of the Senate. A classic case is Domitian. See Suetonius, Dom. 4 (extravagant benefactions to the populace), 10, 13 (measures against the aristocracy), 23 (senators’ rapture at his demise).

(pp. 252 f)

We encounter no more disturbances until a good decade or more after the supposed time of Jesus. As the Roman historian wrote of Judea at this time: Under Tiberius all was quiet.

That the people of Judea were in large part fused with zeal for an overthrow of Roman power, a restoration of God’s rule alone, and that they were willing to follow any apocalyptic prophet who was announcing that message is a narrative in search of supporting evidence. Repeated assertion may be reassuring but for serious researchers it is not enough.


Mason, Steve. 2016. A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


 

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Neil Godfrey

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22 Comments

  • 2018-12-23 11:27:34 GMT+0000 - 11:27 | Permalink

    One can argue that Philo gives some indication of tensions between Judea and Rome. Not saying that’s a solid case, just that its something presented as support for such a position.

    But furthermore, how on earth would Jesus fit the bill of a leader against Rome anyway? The first Gospel presents Jesus not as a champion of the Jews, but rather as a champion of the gentiles! There is really only one Gospel that presents Jesus as a potential champion of the Jews, and that is Luke.

    And with all the discussion about taxes, we have both a Jesus and a Paul telling the Jews to just pay their taxes! LOL.

    Why would people looking for a leader against Roman oppression gravitate to an illiterate homeless prophet who curses the Jewish leadership and foretells the destruction of the Temple?

    The Gospel of Mark presents Jesus as someone that all Jews fail to understand, especially his most direct followers, and who is only recognized as the Son of God by a Roman soldier. How is this Jesus someone who the Jews worshiped because he was recognized as their messiah? The whole point of GMark is that the Jews DIDN’T recognize Jesus as the messiah.

    That GMark is a post-war allegory written from the perspective of a Pauline follower makes far more sense. Paul was preaching harmony between Jews and Gentiles. The writer of Mark was a follower of Paul who saw in the outcome of the war the evidence that the Jews should have listened to PAUL.

    The writer of Mark used Paul’s teachings to write an allegory about how the Jews brought the war upon themselves by not heeding Paul’s message of reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles. The story is a polemic against the pro-Jewish leaders of the Jesus movement, James, John and Peter, which is why they are all portrayed poorly in the story. James, John and Peter are clearly meant to present the James, John and Peter that Paul constantly railed against in his letters.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-23 23:08:34 GMT+0000 - 23:08 | Permalink

      I think I understand your argument, but one detail holds me back from full acceptance and that is the ending when the young man in the tomb tells the women to tell Peter where to see Jesus. This does not sound like a clear “railing against” Peter but rather it concludes on an expectation that Peter has hope in being restored to Jesus. I am aware that the women are said to “say nothing to anyone”, but even if we read that literally it still shifts fault away from Peter.

      • Matt Cavanaugh
        2019-01-03 20:52:20 GMT+0000 - 20:52 | Permalink

        Is not the women in 16:8 ignoring that instruction a strong indication of 16:7 being an interpolation? (Not to mention it refers to 16:14 in the long ending.)

        Peter’s story arc can end cleanly at 14:72. He realizes he’s been terribly mistaken about Jesus, and doesn’t need further confirmation, either from the women informing him of the empty tomb, or by checking it out himself as in Luke.

        It’s worth pondering who the women represent, and who they might have told had they not been afraid. The Petrine sect, as represented by Peter, does not seem a likely candidate for the latter.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-23 23:36:52 GMT+0000 - 23:36 | Permalink

      There were certainly tensions at times between Jews and Romans in the way certain local tensions were handled, but does Philo provide evidence of the sort of all pervasive systematic financial oppression mixed with apocalyptic hopes and expectations?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-23 23:47:07 GMT+0000 - 23:47 | Permalink

      The Gospel of Mark presents Jesus as someone that all Jews fail to understand

      Thomas L. Thompson has offered interesting perspective of a theme running through Jewish Scriptures: the history of Israel is a continual cycle of God calling and blessing his people, the people becoming faithless and falling away, followed by a rejection of that generation by God and his selection of a New Israel to start again. If read in this context we find the Gospel of Mark is a continuation of the Jewish Scripture narrative: we have the failure of the old Israel followed by a restoration of the new Israel. The message is ever the same: the new Israel is to learn the lessons of the old Israel.

      • 2018-12-24 02:13:40 GMT+0000 - 02:13 | Permalink

        It fits in with Carrier’s point that the essence of the Christian movement was that Jesus’ sacrifice replaced the need for the corrupt, Roman loving Temple Cult. In this way, the first Christians were an Anti-Temple sect, like the Qumran sect.

        • Matt Cavanaugh
          2019-01-03 21:21:01 GMT+0000 - 21:21 | Permalink

          Which first christians are we talking about? The Jesus of the gospels would’ve been anathema to James’ sect.

      • 2018-12-24 18:44:26 GMT+0000 - 18:44 | Permalink

        Right, but the irony of this view is that it only works in the sense of a fictional narrative. If a messiah is actually not recognized by the Jews, then he would never be worshiped by them. Such a messiah can only be a mythic figure derived from scripture. And indeed yes, there were Jewish stories that talked about suffering, mocked, and unrecognized messiahs, but they are all mythic stories.

        The issue with Jesus is that there has to have been a point where there was a Jewish cult that worshiped the Lord Jesus, Son of God.

        The Jesus that comes to us in the Gospels is already a Jesus for Gentile audiences, not Jews. The Jesus of Mark is clearly not targeted at a Jewish audience, and the Jesus character is completely rejected by the Jews. This can’t possibly be a story that reflects any real way that some Jesus could have been worshiped, as the Jesus that was worshiped by Jews would had to have appealed to Jews.

        When we read the pre-Gospel epistles, there is nothing in them that gives the slightest hint that Jesus was despised or hated or rejected by other Jews, not even in the letters of Paul. James, Jude, Paul and Hebrews give no indication that Jesus has been rejected or was an unrecognized messiah.

        What we do have in the letters of Paul is PAUL rejecting many aspects of Jewish religious practice. We have PAUL railing against the law. We have PAUL railing against the Jewish leadership.

        This is also, as you pointed out in some other posts, why astute scholars have been skeptical of the temple cleansing scene. If the big climax of Jesus’ career was his confrontation with the Jewish establishment at the temple, where he cursed the leadership and prophesied the doom of the temple, surely that would have factored into the early epistles, but we see no indication of anything like that.

        There is just nothing in the early epistles that indicates Jesus was despised, feared, hated, punished, disregarded, or anything like that.

        All that we are told is that Jesus is a hidden mystery, not that he was hated.

        But the Jesus of the Gospels is a man hated by Jews, recognized as the son of God by Gentiles, whom the unwitting Roman Pilate was forced to kill against his will by the murderous corrupt Jews. That’s not someone around whom a cult of worship among Jews would have been cultivated. And it certainly isn’t an apocalyptic messiah that Galilean Jews would have coalesced around.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-12-24 23:09:51 GMT+0000 - 23:09 | Permalink

          I find myself still persuaded by Werner Kelber’s view of the Gospel of Mark depicting a uniting of Jew and Gentile by Jesus as he crossed the “sea of Galilee” and performed comparable healings and miracles on both sides, the Jewish and gentile regions. Galilee, the region that Matthew points out was prophesied to see the great light, appears in many respects to be representative of a positive reception of Jesus, a kingdom of God being embraced, while in Jerusalem we have the place of rejection.

    • Matt Cavanaugh
      2019-01-03 21:39:41 GMT+0000 - 21:39 | Permalink

      “That GMark is a post-war allegory written from the perspective of a Pauline follower makes far more sense.”

      Definitely.

      “The whole point of GMark is that the Jews DIDN’T recognize Jesus as the messiah.”

      More specifically, the jewish-christian sect represented by the character of Peter, whose members imagined Jesus as a very different kind of messiah than Paul’s Christus. Note that in 8:29 Peter identifies Jesus as “the christ”, that is, the messiah. It’s assumed here that only Peter got this right. (Though he gets its very wrong in GThomas.) But Peter’s consternation with Jesus’ prediction of suffering & dying, and Jesus’ rebuke, “you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s”, indicates he/they had in mind a triumphant, non-suffering, earthly, very jewish, messiah.

  • Pingback: Response #2 to History for Atheists’ “JESUS THE APOCALYPTIC PROPHET” |

  • Sili
    2018-12-23 14:28:52 GMT+0000 - 14:28 | Permalink

    »“wish fullfilment (sic)”«

    That’s beneath you.

  • Blood
    2018-12-23 16:19:18 GMT+0000 - 16:19 | Permalink

    “So Catholic scholars find a Jesus who establishes institutions, iniates (sic) sacraments and sets up an ongoing hierarchy of authority. Liberal Christian scholars find a Jesus who preaches social justice and personal improvement. And anti-theistic Jesus Mythicists find a Jesus who was never there at all.”

    And rationalistic German scholars like Schweitzer, interested as they were in the “scientific” study of religion a la Wellhausen, found an “apocalyptic” Jesus who thwarts both the conservatives and liberals, thereby giving his discoverers a smug sense of rationalistic historical truth that was every bit the emotional wish fulfillment as other interpretations. The same is still very much the case today.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-12-23 23:30:15 GMT+0000 - 23:30 | Permalink

      Exactly. Tim ironically fails to recognize he is positioning himself in relation to the rest of the world/believers and mythicist atheists alike in the same way his Jesus was at odds with all others. Another who does the same thing in his own way is R. Joseph Hoffmann whose Jesus “sure as blazes doesn’t love everybody!”

  • Pingback: Final (#3) post responding to O’Neill’s Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet |

  • Mark S
    2019-01-03 04:08:17 GMT+0000 - 04:08 | Permalink

    That the people of Judea were in large part fused with zeal for an overthrow of Roman power, a restoration of God’s rule alone, and that they were willing to follow any apocalyptic prophet who was announcing that message is a narrative in search of supporting evidence.

    This summarizes the straw man you constructed. All O’Neill needs is that were such people, as there obviously were. He is presumably well aware that ‘apocalyptic’ was one of many trends abroad, opposed by many or most, as e.g. belief in resurrection of the body was opposed opposed by many or most. No one who affirms anything like what O’Neill does thinks Jesus had much of a following anyway.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-03 07:24:04 GMT+0000 - 07:24 | Permalink

      I assume a critical mass (that is, a significant group, not necessarily the overwhelming majority by any means) would be necessary for O’Neill’s model to take wings and fly.

      My point is that we have no evidence at all for anyone who had such ideas in the early first century. None. Zilch.

      We could argue that the numbers were so small and insignificant that they did not register in our sources for other evidence. But at some point we are going to have to say, Hang on, how many more pieces of our construction for the start of Christianity do we have to explain away as not having any evidence because they were all so…. small?

      Historical evidence is necessary for any assertion. We can’t just keep making claims and saying “we can’t expect to find any evidence for them”.

      (O’Neill’s argument, which is only a presentation of what many biblical scholars assume or argue, is less likely if the number of followers was as small and insignificant as he/they sometimes suggest. Your/his/their argument is strengthened for a number of reasons if we assume what is sometimes called “a critical mass”. But the number of followers we imagine is beside the point because there is no evidence for such a view extant among first century Galileans or Judaeans anyway in the early first century.)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-03 10:15:03 GMT+0000 - 10:15 | Permalink

      I’m curious. I would really appreciate honest feedback. If my post has been a straw man case, if that one sentence you addressed really does “summarize” the larger straw-man argument, please do explain to me how anything I have said in the post does not accurately reflect the arguments of O’Neill.

      (You have identified one sentence in which you appear to have interpreted my words “in large part” as claiming such a large part that they were the or a dominant view of Judaism’s beliefs at the time. I have responded to that. So I’d greatly appreciate feedback that shows how my post more generally misrepresents O’Neill’ argument.)

      • Mark S
        2019-01-03 15:37:33 GMT+0000 - 15:37 | Permalink

        All O’Neill needs is that views like: the final resurrection of the dead; the cosmic battle of angels and demons, the latter subject to exorcism; a somehow-messianic finale in which, as Josephus later puts it, “one of their number would come to rule the world”; limitless hatred of Herodians as illegitimate Idumean frauds imposed by foreigners; etc. – all known from numerous sources – took hold of just as many Galilean bumpkins as constituted the Jesus crowd. This is maybe 200 people.

        Note that your grand finale “Judea was quiet” seems to have nothing to do with the Galilee bumpkins O’Neill is characterizing. After the crucifixion we never hear of these people in Galilee again; the microscopic number of Jewish adherents is all hanging around the Temple. We would only need the Jewish ethnos to be generally in the fever grip of these ideas if the movement had been a success, but it was basically a total failure with uptake from a tiny group.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-01-03 20:00:19 GMT+0000 - 20:00 | Permalink

          What are you talking about? Historians are not free to cherry pick their own passages from different ancient literary works and then go out and say their prooftexts are all evidence that there were people in ancient Judea who put them together the same way and became a small movement that led to Christianity. That’s not presenting evidence. That’s merely bullshitting.

          Your second paragraph is more of the same. Simply saying that such people with such beliefs would have been around is bullshitting. A historian needs evidence.

          And we have no evidence (only more inferences, extrapolations and assertions) that the “Jewish people were generally in such a fever grip.” Just making up stuff is what some biblical scholars do — too many in fact. But it is not how serious historians (eg. M.I. Finley) work.

          As for the link between Judas the Galilean and Judaea see https://vridar.org/2018/12/04/debunking-myths-of-judas-the-galilean-the-zealots-and-causes-of-the-war-with-rome/

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-01-03 20:06:15 GMT+0000 - 20:06 | Permalink

          So I presume your failure to respond to my request that you support your accusation that my post was a more general straw man presentation of O’Neill’s argument is meant to be interpreted that your accusation had no substance.

    • MrHorse
      2019-01-03 19:49:47 GMT+0000 - 19:49 | Permalink

      Mark S,

      throwing out generalities such as there “were such people as there obviously were”, “‘apocalyptic’ was one of many trends abroad, opposed by many or most” and “belief in resurrection of the body was ‘opposed’ opposed by many or most”, doesn’t address the specifics of the genesis of the traditional Jesus the Christ narrative: a narrative based on spurious, specific-content free narratives of Paul and on only slightly-less-vague narratives of Mark (and the other gospel writers who seem to have just elaborated on Mark).

      The fact there are a few vague accounts of the likes of Judas the Galilean in the first decade of the first century, and a increasing Jewish rebel activity two generations later in the mid-late 40s AD does not verify the Jesus of Nazareth narratives.

      Referring to “limitless hatred of Herodians as illegitimate Idumean frauds imposed by foreigners”, “the cosmic battle of angels and demons”, “Galilean bumpkins”, and Josephus writing about “one of their number would come to rule the world” as part of “a somehow-messianic finale”, is how narratives get written (such as that of ‘Jesus the Christ’), but they doesn’t verify such narratives being based on a real Jesus of Nazareth, especially when there is no provenance or contemporaneous or near contemporaneous sources for the basis for such narratives.

      You’ll have to do better than gish-gallop conflated or contrived concepts or mere brain-farts onto a blog comment-post the way Tim O’Neill and many others do, and the way the writer/s of the Pauline epistles and all the other NT books have done, clearly using apocalyptic/ revelatory parts of the O.T. as foundations or framework for their narratives.

      Theological stories or elaborations of perceptions of them are not history.

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