Why a Saviour Had to Suffer and Die? Martyrdom Beliefs in Pre-Christian Times

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by Neil Godfrey

The next time I hear someone say that no-one would make up a saviour who suffers and dies I will be able to point them to the table in this post. I think we can conclude that a suffering and dying messiah is exactly what we should expect to emerge from a world where all seemed lost and there was no hope for real deliverance in this life. Note, for example, #13. The table is taken from Ethelbert Stauffer’s New Testament Theology, to which I was directed by Morna Hooker in her book, Jesus and the Servant.

The Principal Elements of the Old Biblical Theology of Martyrdom

(Chief passages and proof texts)

A. The shape of martyrdom

1. The people of God is the martyr nation among the Gentiles. Psa. 73.3 ff.; 78.1 ff.; 79.9 ff.; 82.3 ff.; Jdth. 9.8; Isa. 42.1 LXX; AEn. 85 if.; 89.59 if.; IV Ezra 3.27 ff.; MEx. on 20.23; SB, II, 284
2. Those people of God who are loyal to the Torah are persecuted by the Gentiles and their accomplices DaG, 3; 9; 11 f.; I Mac. 2.27 if.; II Mac. 5.27; 7.2, 30; IV Mac. 5.16 f; PsSol. 17.19; AssMos. 8.6; Martls. 2.8 ff.; PsPhil. 6.9, 16; San. 49a; Cantr. 8.6 f.
3. Those people of God who are loyal to the Torah are persecuted by their apostate fellows Psa. 21; 40.9 f.; 68; II Chron. 24.1; Wisd. 2 f.; 5; PsSol. 4; 12; Dam. 1.20; IV Ezra 7
4. The people of God persecute the messengers of God (III βασ 19.2 ff.; Ex. 17.4; 32.9; Num. 14.10; 17.14; Jer. 6.10; 9.25; 11.19; Isa. 40 if.; II Chron. 36.16; Jub. 1.12; Martls. 3; 5; Paraljer. 9.20 ff.
5. The blood of Abel cries to heaven till the end of time AEn. 22.7; TestAbr. 11
6. Even the picture of Messiah has traces of the martyr in it SB, II, 273 ff.; IV Ezra 7.29; 10.1, 16, etc., in Jeremias, Deutsche Theologie, II, 1929, 106 ff.
7. Even the picture of the Son of Man has traces of the martyr in it Joachim, Jeremias, briefly: Motifs from the Servant Songs in the texts about the Son of Man in AEn. 37 ff; Traditions about the past earthly life, the present heavenly existence and the future return of the Son of Man in AEn. 39.4 ff; 71.14 ff.; 90.31, etc.


B. The fate of martyrdom

8. The confessors live in the desert, far from the wickedness and pursuits of the world I Mac. 1.56; PsSol. 17.16 f.; AssMos. 9; Martls. 5.11 ff; PsPhil. 6.7 ff; Dam. 6.5
9. The persecutors use suspicions and slanders, false accusations and false witnesses against those who are faithful to God Jer. 15.15; Psa. 26.12; 34.11; DaΘ. 6.5 f.; Wisd. 2.22; III Mac. 7.11; Ps. Sol. 12.1ff; Martls. 3.8 f.
10. The martyrs are treated undeservedly like thieves and killed and in this sense suffer innocently Psa. 34.7, 19; 58.4 f; Wisd. 2.19, 22; 3.5; PsSol. 12.4; II Mac. 7.40; IV Mac. 12.14
11. The martyrs frequently suffer and die in the arena, which was a recognized institution also in Palestine in hellenistic times III Mac. 4.11 [IV Mac. 5.1; 15.20]; cf. Jer. 12.5; Eccl. 9.11; I Mac. 1.14; II Mac. 4.12 ff; IV Mac. 4.20; JosAnt. 12.241; 15.268 ff, 341; remains in Jerusalem, Samaria, Rabbath-Ammon, Gerasa, etc.
12. Martyrs are often scourged and crucified, and ‘cross’ therefore appears occasionally as the inclusive term for a martyr’s fate AssMos. 8.1; JosAnt. 12.256; Gnr. on 22.6; further A. Schlatter, Die Märtyrerer den Anfängen der Kirche, 1915, 70 and n. 259 above
13. The martyr’s death is a sign of his coming victory Dan. 3; Wisd. 2.17; Martls. 5.7; Ber. 61b; AZ. 18a
14. Lists of martyrs kept memory fresh about the typical murder of the saints in history IV Mac. 16.20 f; 18.11 ff. L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstl. Vortrage der Juden, 1832, 142; Elbogen, 203; 228 ff.; Kaufmann, REJ, 1887, 250; SB, I, 582
15. History has also seen some miraculous deliverances which God has wrought for his faithful ones Dan. 3.49 f; III Mac. 6.18 ff.; 7.16; PsPhil. 6.9, 17 f; Gnr. on 15.7; 22.19


C. God’s Glory and the shame and glory of martyrdom

16. The martyrs suffer for the name of the one true God, and glorify him in their death DaG. 3.17 f; Dan. 6.11, 14, 17; 11.31 ff; I Mac. 1.54; 6.7; II Mac. 6.1 ff; III Mac. 7.16; IV Mac. 8.24; Wisd. 2.18; 3.6; PsSol. 2.2; AEn. 108.10; Martls. 2.7 ff.; TestJb. 3 f; PsPhil. 6.4; IV Ezra 7.89; Ber. 61b; Ekar. on 1.16
17. The martyrs willingly drink the cup that God has prepared for them Martls. 5.13.
18. The martyr’s strength derives from the fearlessness of those that fear God Dan. 3.12, 17 f, 95; II Mac. 6.26; 7.30; IV Mac. 13.14 f; Martls. 5.10; PsPhil. 6.4; AbRN 4 = SB, I, 581
19. The martyrs prefer eternal to temporal glory the oath of renunciation: Mac. 1.66; 3.59; IV Mac. 15.2 f, 8, 16, 26 f; AEn. 108.10; AssMos. 9.6; TestJb. 18; Martls. 5.8 f; VitProph. 51
20. The martyr’s road leads through short tribulation to eternal glory Wisd. 3.2 ff; IV Ezra 7.88 ff, etc.
21. The saints that have been slain are at peace Deut. 33.3; Wisd. 3.1 ff; IV Mac. 17.19
22. The martyrs pass at death directly to heaven Wisd. 5.15; IV Mac. 5.37; 13.7; 17.18; 18.23
23. The martyrs’ road leads from the circumscribed to the spacious IV Ezra 7.6 ff, 96; 13.19 f; TestAbr. 7; Testlss. 12a
24. The martyrs will receive a place of honour and an honourable reward in the world to come Dan. 12.1 ff.; II Mac. 7.9; 28 f.; Wisd. 2.16; 3 f.; 5.15 f.; PsSol. 14.1 ff.; AEn. 108 ff.; JosAp. 2.218; Kohr. on 9.10


D. The slaughter of the saints and the revenge of God

25. The martyrs throw contentions, curses and prayers for revenge at those who slaughter the saints ‘Persecution polemics’: Jer. 18.20 ff.; Psa. 68.29; II Mac. 7.31; IV Mac. 11·23; TestL. 16.2; IV Ezra 4.35; Inscr. at Rheneia, Deissmann, LAE, 423 ff.; HEn. 44.7; Taan, 18b
26. The blood of the martyrs will be the destruction of their persecutors Deut. 32.43; IV Mac. 11.23; RH, 23a; KW, s.v.).
27. Those who slaughter the saints are punished for their offences, and come to a miserable end Psa. 34.8; I Mac. 2.62 f.; 6.11 ff.; II Mac. 3.28 f; 4.38; 5.9 f; 9.4 ff.; 13.8; Wisd. 3.10 ff; PsSol. 2.25 ff; 14.7, 9; Martls. 2.14; PsPhil. 9.8; 44.10
28. The way of the slayer of the saints passes through a brief triumph to eternal torment II Mac. 6.12 ff.; SBar. 13; JosAp. 2.218; Taan, 18b
29. The turning-point of history can only come when the measure of atrocities is full, and when the last slaughter of a saint has been accomplished Dan. 9.25 ff; Wisd. 5.17 ff; II Mac. 6.12 ff; 7.37 f; 8.2 ff.;
III Mac. 3.8; 6.18 ff; IV Mac. 12.17 f·; AEn. 89.75; AssMos 9 f; Dam. 20.1, 14 f; IV Ezra 4.36; SBar. 13; JosAnt. 18.116; SB, II, 274 ff


E. Witness against the accused and the contest at law

30. God’s messenger is involved in the controversy between God and man as the witness ( ע ד , μάρτυς) for the prosecution against the ungodly and is therefore persecuted IV βασ 17.13 ff; Psa. 118.22 ff; I Mac. 2.56 [cf. Num. 14.9 f]; IV Mac. 12.16, vl.; 16.16 ff; Jub. 1.12; SDt. on 32.1
31. The eye-witnesses’ accounts of the slaughter of the saints count as evidence for the prosecution at the last judgement II Mac. 7.6 [cf. Deut. 31.21; 32.36, 43; also IV Mac. 18.18; AZ, 17b/18c]; AEn. 89.63, 76; GEn. 104.11; SBar. 13.3 ff
32. The names of the saints that have been slain are recorded and at the last judgement serve as evidence against the persecutors MidrPs. on 9.13
33. At the last judgement the persecutors will look with dread upon the transfigured martyrs Zech. 5.1 ff; Wisd. 5.1 ff; AEn. 108.15; IV Ezra 7.37 ff, 83; ApEl. 41; Succ. 52a
34. The persecuted and murdered saints will reappear in the controversy between God and the world of men as witnesses for the prosecution against their persecutors Wisd. 5.1 ff; AEn. 22.7; GEn. 99.3 [in C. Bonner p. 43] AEn. 108.15; IV Ezra 7.37 f; TestAbr. 11; ApAbr. 25; ApEl. 41


F. Warfare and Victory

35. Martyrdom is one of the forms taken by the war between the civitas dei and the civitas diaboli  Wisd. 2.10 ff.; PsSol. 17.16 ff.; IV Mac. 11.7 f vl; Martls. 2.5; VitProph. 41; 44, etc.
36. The princes who slaughter the saints are, and are called, tyrants II Mac. 7.27; IV Mac. 1.11; 15.2; VitProph. 50; MidrPr. on 9.2
37. The persecutors are ravenous beasts PJer. 51.34; Psa. 7.3; 9.30; 21.13 ff·; 34-*7; 90.13; AEn. 87 ff.; 89.13 ff., 55 f; PsSol. 2.25; TestJud. 21.7 ff.; VitProph. 50
38. The martyr is a combatant gladiator, boxer, wrestler: IV Mac. 6.10 f; 9.8, 23; 11.20 ff.; 17.8 ff.; TestJb. 4.27; PhilMigrAbr. 74 f).
39. Martyrdom is a fight with beasts IV Mac. 9.26 ff.
40. The suffering of martyrdom is a wrestling with Satan  TestJb. 27
41. The whole cosmos watches the bloodstained spectacle of the martyrs’ suffering and war III Mac. 4.11; 5.24; 7.14; IV Mac. 15.20; 17.14; cf. AEn. 9.1 ff; HEn. 44.10; Ekar. on 1.16 ff.


G. Expiatory suffering

42. The martyr makes atonement in the first instance for his own sins II Mac. 7.18, 32; Wisd. 3.5 f; PsSol. 10.2 f; PsPhil. 6.11; SNu. on 15.31; Haggad Beresch 56 = SB, I, 225
43. The martyr prays for his people II Mac. 7.37 f.; IV Mac. 6.28
44. The blood of the martyr atones for the sin of his people Deut. 32.43; II Mac. 7.37 f; IV Mac. 1.11; 6.28 f; 12.7 f; 17.21 f; SB, II, 274 ff; 281 f; MidrHL. on 7.9; MidrPr. on 9.2
45. The martyr prays for his persecutors Isa. 53.12 MT; II Mac. 15.11 ff; TestB. 3.5 ff
46. The blood of the martyr atones for the sin of the persecutor Isa. 53.4 f, 12 LXX; TestB. 3.8A; Sota. 14a
47. The blood of the martyrs serves to sustain the world San. 93a; Gnr. on 8.21


Some of the more obscure abbreviations: 

AbRN Aboth of Rabbi Nathan
AEn Aethiopian Enoch, Ed. J. Flemming and Radermacher
AZ Abodah Zarah
I, II, III, IV βασ Septuagint of Books of Samuel and Kings
ApAbr Apocalypse of Abraham, ed. G. N. Bonwetsch, 1897
ApEl Apocalypse of Elijah, and fragments of a Sophonia Apocalypse, Ed. G. Steindorff in TU, NS, 31, 1899
AssMos The Assumption of Moses
Ber Berakoth
Cantr Canticum rabbah (Midrash on the Song of Songs)
Dam Damaskusschrift (The Zadokite Fragment), Ed. L. Rost, 1933, also, Scheeter, 1910, and Zeitlin, 1952. ET of Schecter’s text in R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha II, 785 f.
DaG The Septuagint of Daniel
DaΘ Theodotion’s translation of Daniel
Ekar Eka rabbati (Midrash on Lamentations)
GEn Greek Enoch, Ed. J. Flemming and Radermacher
Gnr Genesis Rabbah (Midrash on Genesis)
HEn Hebrew Enoch, Ed. O. Odeberg, 1928
JosAnt Antiquities
JosAp Against Apion
Kohr Koheleth Rabbah (Midrash on Ecclesiastes)
KW G. Kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum NT
MartIs Martyrdom of Isaiah
MEx Mekilta Exodus, ancient midrash on the Exodus
MidrPr Midrash on Proverbs
MidrPs Midrash on Psalms
PhilMigrAbr Philo: De Migratione Abrahami
PsPhil Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, Ed. Guido Kisch, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1948 (cf. The biblical antiquities of Philo . . . tr. by M. R. James, 1917)
PsSol Psalms of Solomon
RH Rosh Hashanah
San Sanhedrin
SB H. L. Strack-Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum NT aus Talmud und Midrasch, I, 1922 II, 1924
SBar Syrian Baruch Apocalypse
SDt Sifre Deuteronomium
SNu Sifre Numeri
Succ Succoth
Taan Taanith
TestAbr Testament of Abraham, Ed. G. N. Bonwetsch, 1897
TestB Testament of Benjamin
TestIss Testament of Issachar
TestJb Testament of Job
TestJud Testament of Judah
TestL Testament of Levi
VitProph Prophetarum Vitae Fabulosae, Ed. Th. Schermann, 1907


Stauffer, Ethelbert. 1955. New Testament Theology. Translated by John Marsh. London: SCM Press.

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39 thoughts on “Why a Saviour Had to Suffer and Die? Martyrdom Beliefs in Pre-Christian Times”

  1. Well the wording is wrong. “Having to” means value system is wrong, which leads to a suffering savior. I hear people saying, it’s too bad he had to go through that. Had to? Well I doubt that anybody has to do anything unless his surroundings and circumstances and environment cause him to “have to” go through that. It follows that if he were not in that place at that time, he would not “have to” go through that.

    1. Salutations David Fitzgerald,

      You got me hooked on Jesus ahistoricity theory, so in a way I am a monster you created Herr Doktor 🙂

      • David is there any way to get a Tim O’Neill—Neil Godfrey debate?

      Per Neil Godfrey (5 September 2018). “PZ Myers interviews a historian about Jesus mythicism”. Vridar.

      I left the following on PZ’s blog:

      PZ — you have had discussions with Tim O’Neill. I have several times now offered to debate Tim O’Neill in any online forum on one condition: that he refrain from personal insult and innuendo in his discussions. He has declined till now. If you were to be a mediator of such a debate I would welcome the opportunity.

  2. I don’t know what a ‘savior’ is, but a messianic movement never expects its own messiah to die and not be anointed and rule. This would seem to be obvious and isn’t a matter of texts and traditions, but of messianic psychology. For example, even after the conceptual couplet of a fighting, suffering Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim and a ruling Messiah ben David surfaces, there was never a Messiah ben Joseph movement.

    Thus because Sabbatai was forever hit with the idea that ‘the messiah of the House of Joseph must come first’, he cooked up the idea that a martyr of the 1648 Chmielnicki massacres, R. Abraham Zalman, had been MbJ and, if I understand Scholem (p. 400), preached a spectacular exegesis to make sense of this.

    Later in the story we might get closer to a ‘suffering messiah movement’ in the figure of the lone individual, the eccentric R. Nehemiah Kohen. He supposedly came down from Poland and met with Sabbatai. On one of two contradictory accounts, he insisted that he himself was the messiah of the House of Joseph; thus must die before the Davidic messiah makes his parousia; thus Sabbatai is a fraud (663) Interestingly this appears in the Christian account, the surviving Jewish story is different. There seems to have been a Christian fascination with this two-messiah tradition in the 17th c.

    After Sabbatai failed, there was a minority exculpating tradition that in fact he had been MbJ (956), and the Davidic world ruler yet to come. In Christianity it would seem that a similar move was made, but what later appears as a distinction of persons becomes a distinction of phases.

    But I would think no movement ever forms around ‘House of Joseph messianic expectations’, not because the material is not there, but because of what movements are.

    1. What evidence is there for such “movements” as you put them being in Palestine early first century CE?

      If you are suggesting that the Christian messiah died and was never anointed to rule then you only need to read the gospels and Paul to know that the Christian messiah died like other martyrs as a prelude to his great cosmic victory.

      1. Yes, the same myth arose around Sabbatai and Schneerson: “it looks bad but, don’t worry, it is just beginning.”

        Every optimistic Davidic messianic movement fails a priori; if anything of it survives it must take this form.

        Similarly, where anything takes this form – “died like other martyrs as a prelude to his great cosmic victory” – it began with standard-issue Davidic ruling messiah anticipation.

        The problem was never the textual one that there aren’t potential ‘suffering messiah’ materials in the tradition, but that they cannot constitute an enthusiastic or ecstatic or charismatic or indeed any movement at all.

        There are simply no examples.

        A suffering messiah movement focused on a real individual is nonsense; a mythicist suffering messiah movement is nonsense upon stilts.

        1. My point is that we have no evidence, zilch, for any messianic movement of any kind in the early first century Galilee and Judaea. We can play with definitions and models all we like but they cannot be substituted for absence of evidence.

          1. The ‘messianic idea’ – the idea that scripture and prophecy were pointing to the reappearance of something like the days when ‘Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king’, ipso facto by some kind of divine assistance – only seems to get going sometime in the 1st c BC, perhaps among Hasmonean dissidents, who were many, or – more likely – dissident subjects of the poseur king Herod the Great, who were legion. Once constituted it is all over the place in the limited literature in our possession. Thus the rabbis have the idea very clearly, and accept it, though they view it as dangerous, “Akiva, grass will grow on your cheeks and still the son of David will not have come.” It is taken up and suitably morphed already in Paul. There is every reason to think that those from whom Paul learned of the ‘anointed’ ‘son of David’ are those from whom, by succession, the rabbis also learned of it. Later of course the idea is again morphed and incorporated into Islam as the mahdi concept.

            Messianic movements proper, with a potential, would-be, might-be, certainly-is ‘King Messiah’-mahdi-‘second coming’ character at their core, are social phenomena that depend on the existence of this tradition. We first hear of them in the first century, after we find traces of the idea in texts e.g. Psalm of Solomon, or in conjunction with the idea as in Paul. In investigating such phenomena from a social and psychological point of view, we make use of the whole history of this conceptual tradition. Such a movement is unlikely to have at its core the idea that the charismatic individual is about to end up dead.

            Even when the prophetic idea of a suffering anointed one actually congeals, as in the idea of the anointed military leader of the house of Joseph, an individual cannot attract the social force requisite to begin to realize even the first steps ‘anticipated’ in the suppose prophecy. It cannot stand as an object of hope.

            1. On what grounds do you determine that only one definition of the messianic idea, yours, is the valid one?

              What evidence do you have to support the claim that “dissident Hasmoneans” embraced the idea?

              What evidence do you have to support the claim that “dissident subjects” of Herod embraced the idea?

              On what grounds to you take a story from late antiquity that claims to be a story about a saying in the second century and say it is historical evidence for an idea in the fist century BC or CE?

              What evidence do you have for the claim that Paul “morphed” your idea into something different, his gospel?

              On what grounds do you say there is “every reason to believe” (presumably you are talking about supporting evidence) that the rabbis who taught Paul were part of a clear line of succession to rabbis of late antiquity? On what grounds do you claim that this long line of succession always taught the same thing about the “messianic idea”?

              What evidence do you have to connect the Psalm of Solomon with the sort of messianic definition you are describing?

              And what evidence do you have to infer that the Psalm of Solomon was picked up by anyone belonging to a “messianic movement”? What evidence do you have for that Psalm being embraced by any messianic movement at all?

              Why do you continue to characterize an alternative messianic idea which you don’t believe existed — why do you characterize an alternative view as claiming that the messiah was “going to end up dead”? Did you read the above post? Do the martyrs only ever “end up dead”? You have read the NT: did anyone believe or teach that Jesus only “ended up dead”? I know of no messianic idea which has ever taught the messiah will “end up dead”. We have seen many instances of messiahs dying in the OT, but by the time we come to a “messianic idea” we see messiahs dying only as a sign of victory over death. Read the above post. That’s what this discussion is supposed to be about.

              All your talk of “history of conceptual tradition” and ideas “congealing” and “social forces” seem to hide the remaining fact that you have no historical evidence for your scenario.

              You, like many others, have imagined a certain idea as “the only true” messianic idea, and then looked for places where you think it could have been found among “popular movements” in history. But the whole exercise is one of imagination. There is not a single scrap of historical evidence for any of it. (I am speaking of the first centuries BC and CE, of course. I am aware of different developments in messianic ideas among later Jews. But we are talking about the Second Temple period.)

              Much as been written about the origins and histories and different types of messianic ideas in ancient Judaism that could and should have been picked up by more general scholarly works but it still seems to be sitting only on the shelves of a few interested specialists up till now.

              Your analysis follows no standard historical method as set out by any historian I know (I know biblical scholars love it because it is simply reinforcing their traditional doctrines, but they are not really historians doing real history.)

              1. I am taking as the one true messianic idea the one that later surfaces in the rabbinical tradition; my account of it is that employed by the standard issue Jewish studies I was reheating, and writers like Cross or even the moderately nihilistic Novenson (who in any case is more interested in where the Jesus crowd got their ideas, not where the rabbis did). A more fruitful historical enquiry is into the historical origin of that idea, the one that surfaces among the rabbis (clearly independently of Christian developments, which they only know in their later decadent gentile form.) This enquiry would best be pursued independently of investigation of Christian origins – except that Paul is among the best sources we have for late 2nd T Jewish ideas, especially messianic ‘christ’ ideas. Paul is the only Jewish religious fanatic from the first century from whom any texts survive.

                And in fact, Paul has the same idea that we find in the rabbinical tradition. It turns out that no other idea is needed. Indeed, his uncanny proximity to later rabbinism, rather than the blurry general pharisaism remarked upon by Josephus and “Mark”, is omnipresent and validates the rabbis’ pretense that they are not the 2nd c. upstarts they basically were. (Acts’ representation of Paul as a student of a ‘Gamaliel’ no doubt records his own claim: sages with that name are not attested outside the Christian documents until the Mishnah. Josephus once mentions a member of an ‘important family’ in the pre-rebellion period but nothing about teaching or legal and religious knowledge in the family. Only the Paul tradition and the much later rabbinical tradition are aware of learned Gamaliel figures, and both assign great religious significance to them.)

                Paul adopts the optional device of linking the the pharisaical and later rabbinical doctrine of //the general resurrection of the dead and the end-times// with the appearance of the messiah. This conjunction again repeatedly surfaces in the rest of Jewish history, but as optional, and thus presumably predates him. Similarly, he has a conception of the relation of the gentiles to the Mosaic law that is again unattested until the rabbinical period. For the rabbis Paul’s teaching is emphatic and clearly expressed (with the typically rabbinic addition of a little ‘Noahide’ proto-Sinai). This conception must again have a common cause in the otherwise unattested generation of ‘pharasaical’ – but more particularly proto-rabbinic – teachers Paul was taught by. Similarly Paul’s obscure anticipations of a meltdown of the nomos in the ‘world to come’ is typically ‘orthodox’; it only seems otherwise to rabbinists (Maimonides would be a typical later example) who adopt the optional separation of the universally affirmed ‘son of David’ from the universally affirmed eschatology of a general resurrection and ‘the world to come’. (Neither their conjunction or disjunction is enforced in Maimonides’ ‘articles of faith’)

                The only thing Paul really adds to the ideas that are familiar and affirmed as dogma later — and which must thus themselves be explained apart from ‘Christianity’ itself — is (of course) an account of (a) how a Davidic messiah to whom the eschatological, resurrection-time option is annexed, might himself die and be resurrected, and (b) why a momentary hiatus might occur before his proper Davidic parousia. For him the latter seems to be needed for the validation of various prophetical suggestions of ruling over the obedient ‘nations’ — who have turned the true God, buried their idols, and are streaming to the temple with offerings, etc. etc. It is possible that Paul adopted the eschatological, resurrection-time option /because/ he needed to explain the death and supposed resurrection of the imagined messianic figure. The uncanny success of his ‘gentile mission’ perpetually re-validates his confidence in the davidic messiah who subjects the nations and ushers in the end times and general resurrection.

              2. You seem to mixing up the data from widely divergent time periods and somehow interpreting X in terms of Y that is only found centuries later. We need to respect each dataset and its own time period and not confuse the datasets as if they are all just different parts of the same elephant.

                I am taking as the one true messianic idea the one that later surfaces in the rabbinical tradition

                Yes, indeed. And so we need to seek its origins, the reasons it surfaces, among the societies where and when it surfaces. There is no justification for casting a net back centuries.

                And in fact, Paul has the same idea that we find in the rabbinical tradition.

                Well if it is really the “same idea” then the idea you are saying only surfaced centuries later in fact surfaced in the time of Paul. Is Paul’s idea really the same? Or are looking for points of “parallelisms” or identities that cannot justifiably be causally connected.

                You have an overall model that you are imposing on the data and you are interpreting the data to make it fit your model.

                But that’s the way we get confirmation bias, so everything you see in the datasets you can interpret as confirming your model. It is circular reasoning.

  3. Neil: “I think we can conclude that a suffering and dying messiah is exactly what we should expect to emerge from a world where all seemed lost and there was no hope for real deliverance in this life.“

    Are you referring to the whole Roman world? The Jewish world at the time of Jesus’ supposed life? The Jewish world after the defeat of the uprising and destruction of the second Temple? What about the world of the first century made all seem lost with no hope for deliverance?

      1. Per Doherty, Earl (30 July 2012). Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism. Vridar.

        [Per] a shift to a concern with the heavenly world and God’s activities within it, a focus which was continued and enlarged on in much of the Jewish intertestamental writings. […] The Pauline corpus’ obsession with the threat of dark cosmic powers who inhabit the heavens, the period’s fixation on the threat from the demons, has little precedent in the Hebrew bible and marks a new development in Jewish thought, as it did in Hellenistic outlook generally.

    1. “ What about the world of the first century made all seem lost with no hope for deliverance?”

      I think for the Jewish people it was the inability to rebuild the temple after the Bar Kohkba deafeat, is. after 134/5 AD.

    2. I was generally thinking of Judaean communities, primarily but not exclusively in Palestine, prior to the first appearance of Christianity.

      In the back of my mind is the assertion that Christians were the first to emerge with the idea of a suffering and crucified messiah as a result of some sort of unique cognitive dissonance over the death of Jesus. I don’t think such an explanation is adequate as a historical explanation on prima facie grounds and am looking for what I think must be a more reasonable explanation or source from which Christianity emerged. I am suggesting that the pre-Christian and Jewish views of martyrs is a more likely source for Christianity than the unique cognitive dissonance one.

      1. prior to the first appearance of Christianity

        That raises or even begs the question: when was the first appearance of Christianity? What ‘form’ did it take?

        In the back of my mind is the assertion that Christians were the first to emerge with the idea of a suffering and crucified messiah as a result of some sort of unique cognitive dissonance over the death of Jesus.

        reactions/ dissonance(?) to an actual death of an actual Jesus? or just reactions to stories about the death of ‘Jesus’?

        I am suggesting that the pre-Christian and Jewish views of martyrs is a more likely source for Christianity

        I wonder if para-Christian or para-Jewish views, such as Gnostic or mystery-pagan views of martyrs or other dying (+/- rising) entities, contributed to the genesis of Christianity …

        1. reactions/ dissonance(?) to an actual death of an actual Jesus? or just reactions to stories about the death of ‘Jesus’?

          Reactions to an actual death of an actual Jesus. That’s the historicist explanation (most common one, anyway.)

          1. Cheers Neil. Though the reality is that even that historicist ‘explanation’ is really about what people are said to have heard and, moreover, about what they heard about His ‘resurrection’.

    3. Thanks for the second part of your question. You are forcing me to think a bit more deeply about what I was thinking.

      I was thinking of the power of Rome generally, that there could be no reasonable hope of ever removing its burden from the poor. And such a day to day existence in those conditions, generation after generation, means people simply accept the world as it is, however hard. This is what the evidence suggests was the situation in Palestine (thinking here of Steve Mason’s recent book on the Jewish War). Messianic hopes/movements were simply nowhere on anyone’s horizon — except for those that imagined a messianic liberation in some far off indeterminate future (or even in some spiritual realm?) For example, we have a rabbinic tradition commenting on Titus’s Triumph in Rome after 70 CE (73?) that rabbis observed their loss with resignation, trusting that God’s messiah was somewhere on earth at that time, hidden from view, until his time would come — one day, perhaps generations away.

  4. And this is only a fraction of the refutation, because the Hellenized world in which the gospels were written was exposed to Greek or Dionysian prototypes of the dying/resurrected god. Beyond that, anyone who argues that “No one [in this or that group] would ever invent X” knows nothing about human creativity, or hasn’t paid much attention to it.

        1. The last maybe more “BPD” – as in “Bullshit Psychiatric Diagnosis” as the annoyed bolshie among my community have it. Labels are for boxes; normal is a setting on a washing machine. “We don’t think like youse, and we hope we never do”, to paraphrase Stiff Little Fingers. Medicalising wrong-think and behaviours outside an increasingly narrow definition is no different than the ideological psychiatry of the Soviet Union and Peoples Republic of China. Much of psychiatry is no more “Medicine” than homeopathy. Rant off. 🙂

          But I agree with your point. Jesus is “real”, as is much religious phenomenolgy; it is just that they mistook an internal reality of the mind for being an external reality of the world rather than the self. The past is another country, we cannot go there anymore; or at least youse can’t: that reality remains amongst schizotypes whom the materialist “West” is a increasing odds with. We realise we are at ninety degrees to the world (provided we’ve reflected on it, but!); the majority of “neurotypicals” seem to think the internet and television are reality. They might think like us more often to the benefit of all; it would certainly benefit our topic here methinks.

    1. The resurrection imputed to Jesus in Paul is merely the standard pharisaical general resurrection of the dead, of which it is merely the ‘first fruits’. The only thing that happened to Jesus is what, for one of Paul’s background, will happen to every human being. It has zero to do with ‘gods’ at all; it is on the contrary incompatible with the divinity of the resurrected.

      There is no parallel with this anywhere else, and couldn’t be. It’s a purely pharisaical possibility and has nothing to do with Hellenism; the antecedents are in the east.

      1. The resurrection of the Greco-Roman-Egyptian savior god was the predecessor for the resurrection of the follower of the savior god that would happen when the follower died and also for the rebirth/resurrection the follower would experience when joining the cult. The only difference is that in Christianity the resurrection of the followers after death is to be a physical resurrection while the followers of the Greco-Roman-Egyptian saviors would be spiritually resurrected.

        1. IMO, the original resurrection per Christianity:

          Through mystical visions – Jesus revealed that he had tricked the Devil by becoming incarnate and then had subsequently been crucified by the Devil, thereby atoning for all of Israel’s sins, thus the temple cult was no longer relevant and there was no need to pay taxes or participate in the secular world, etc.

          Since a river of fire was on its way to burn up all the damned sinners and all Christians coincidentally. But the Christians (previously dead & newly burnt up) would be given new bodies and a new world, to go forth and gambol, like new calves released from the stall.

  5. The martyr’s death is a sign of his coming victory
    The martyrs suffer for the name of the one true God, and glorify him in their death
    The blood of the martyr atones for the sin of his people

    “Ethelbert Stauffer”. Wikipedia.de (in German).

    [Per Stauffer] martyrdom is an expiatory sacrifice, and Satan is overcome only by such unresisting suffering. This is the teaching of Daniel 3 (the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace) and the Second and Third Books of the Maccabees (eg, in the story of the mother and her seven sons). The apocalyptic pre-Christian literature thus offers a double justification of martyrdom: causally it is inevitable and teleologically it makes perfect sense.

  6. • Perhaps relevant

    Henten, J. W. van; Avemarie, Friedrich (2002). “Noble death in early Jewish sources”. Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian Antiquity. Psychology Press. pp. 42–87. ISBN 9780415138901.

    This chapter concerns martyrdom and related deaths in Jewish literature from the second century BCE to the beginning of the second century CE. The selected passages come from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
    01. Daniel 3 in the Hebrew Bible/the Old Testament
    02. Daniel 6 in the Hebrew Bible/the Old Testament
    03. Prayer of Azariah = Dan. 3:24–45 in the Septuagint version
    04. 1 Maccabees 6:43–6
    05. 2 Maccabees 6:18–31
    06. 2 Maccabees 7:1–42
    07. 2 Maccabees 14:37–46
    08. 4 Maccabees 5
    09. Philo, Every Good Person is Free (Quod omnis probus liber sit) 88–91
    10. Assumptio Mosis 9:1–10:10 79
    11. Josephus, Jewish War 7.389–406

    Henten, Jan Willem van; Dehandschutter, B. A. G. M.; Klaauw, H. J. W. Van Der (1989). Die Entstehung Der Jüdischen Martyrologie (in German). BRILL. ISBN 9789004089785.


    Die drei Männer im Feuer Dan. 3:1–30
    E. HAAG

    Das Danielbuch und die Märtyrertheologie der Auferstehung

    Der leidende Gerechte

    Jüdische Martyrologie und Weisheitsüberlieferung

    Das jüdische Selbstverständnis in den ältesten Martyrien

    Quid Athenis et Hierosolymis? Bemerkungen über die Herkunft von Aspekten des “effective death”

    Martyria: some correspondent motifs in Egyptian religion

    Test. Benjamin 3:8 and the picture of Joseph as ”a good and holy man”

    Martyrium und Agon. Über die Wurzeln der Vorstellung vom ΑΓΩΝ im Vierten Makkabäerbuch

    Zusammenfassung der Diskussion

    1. The literature on the religious effects the Maccabean martyrs is gigantic. It is frequently argued that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead became widespread in response to the phenomenon. They are also the leit motiv of Boyarin’s ‘Dying for God’ which argues inter alia that martyrdom is very much a Jewish idea, though his main focus is, as usual, on the later period and the formation of the rabbis vs the church.

  7. I loved the table that Professor Stauffer created. It seems he wrote this in 1941 way ahead of his time. What still gets me, and by now I should stop being amazed, is just how little the Bible itself can help its readers to apply the contents in context to today’s world. i.e. is the Bible still relevant today other than as a curiosity of how religion is grown for political purposes exploiting the ignorance, fears and weaknesses of the masses ? I know I am not so far contributing much technically to the discussion but it may be helpful if we all declared our assumptions and conclusions up front. Mine are that Roman exploitation explains the destruction of evidence and that Jewish-Roman conflicts are the key to what was allowed to be canonised. I wholly agree that Professor Stauffer’s sources outside the canonical scriptures are the only way we can know enough about the Bible – unless of course we abide by faith in divine revelation and the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Now to a technicality as quoted above by DB on 4/1/19 at 19:35

    Per Doherty, Earl (30 July 2012). Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism. Vridar.

    [Per] a shift to a concern with the heavenly world and God’s activities within it, a focus which was continued and enlarged on in much of the Jewish intertestamental writings. […] The Pauline corpus’ obsession with the threat of dark cosmic powers who inhabit the heavens, the period’s fixation on the threat from the demons, has little precedent in the Hebrew bible and marks a new development in Jewish thought, as it did in Hellenistic outlook generally.

    Scholars today will need to consider if they concede that exploiting the ignorance, fears and weaknesses of the masses was the strategy employed by the Roman leaders in their endorsement of the canon. From my readings the Jews were indeed conscious of the spirit world since day 1. We will get into polytheism in this thread, and the angelology of the OT. AS Robert M. Price put it “when Jahveh and his buddies” decided to create man. So I question the the Doherty quote that demonic ideas were a new development in the intertestamental period. Anyway don’t let me side-track the discussion.

  8. I always return to what Donald H. Akenson wrote in ‘Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds’, Magill Queens, 1998, p173 when Messiah comes up:-

    "One cannot avoid the conclusion that, although the concept of Messiah is present in the Hebrew scriptures, it is there only as a limited and peripheral idea. In each of its usages Moshiah implies a person annointed either by, or on behalf of, Yahweh as a specific office holder or a person with a specific task, such as pprophesying. Certainly, Messiah is not a major part of the Hebrew scriptures, much less their ideational spine. Moshiah is not at any point associated with a future redeemer or saviour."

    The Messiah concept seems an artefact of later theologies, and anachronistic eisegesis imposed retroactively on the text; the differing interpretations of this novel concepton seem to have arisen simultaneously and developed in dialogue and tension with one another.

    Mark S writes:-

    "A suffering messiah movement focused on a real individual is nonsense; a mythicist suffering messiah movement is nonsense upon stilts."

    I would tend to agree with that statement. Paul’s Jesus Christ was not a real individual. The real individual is an invention, as far as I can tell, of G.Mt and its rewriting of the G.Mk meta-parable/allegory. Paul’s Christ is a messiah in so far as Jesus Christ is annointed by Yahweh to a specific task. He is a deity of the “Dying and Rising” kind. It is part of the job description to die and rise to mislead the lords of death and this world; and by opposing, end it. End it by the personal salvation of the individual to remake them anew,literally destroying the world to remake it anew, or both. Which seems to be Paul’s take.

    Now obviously the world did not end, either in toto or for any individual apart from in the mundane sense. After X amount of time (I think Paul is to be situated in the Fifties BC – if he existed at all – from his own words, and if we aren’t to introduce a circularity; but that is bye the bye.) the faith would have to be retconned (and was, multiple times!) to survive.

    We perhaps err if we think we are dealing with one Christianity, even refering to it as such is probably anachronistic. We are dealing either with a becoming – a process, or serial Christianities. The same too with Judaism. Their origin stories are both fictions; indeed from one perspective Judaism – Rabbinical Judaism – can be said to have originated from and after Christianity, insofar as it defined itself very much against Christianity: which, in this sense, can be said to – and must have – preceded it.

    We needn’t be querulous about it; we have a jigsaw with most of the pieces, particularly the borders, missing. We are very much Munchhausen hauling himself and his horse out of the mire by his hair. There is precious little ‘evidence’ to raise our musings from competetive plausibilities even to hypotheses of Christian origins, let alone theories. Let us reason together in charity.

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