2019-01-05

Further on Origins of Belief in a Dying and Resurrected Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

Matthew Ferguson once again has an interesting post that serves as an apt sequel to my previous post on the meaning of martyrdom among pre-Christian era Judaeans: The Rationalization Hypothesis: Is a Vision of Jesus Necessary for the Rise of the Resurrection Belief?. It is a guest post written by Kris Komarnitsky, author of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection.

Komarnitsky writes from the position of acceptance of the historicity of some form of belief in Jesus’ resurrection arising among his disciples (as distinct from my own view that there is no methodological justification for assuming a “historical core” behind our gospel narratives or a gospel narrative behind 1 Corinthians 15) when he introduces the question:

The origin of the resurrection belief is a captivating historical puzzle and the lack of a satisfying answer motivated my inquiry into this topic. Ironically, the lack of a satisfying answer for the rise of the resurrection belief subjected me to the same basic cognitive process that I will suggest led to the resurrection belief. . . . 

The conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead is found in the earliest evidence of Christian origins and appears to have come about almost immediately after Jesus’ death. How does one account for the rise of this extraordinary belief if the later Gospel accounts of a discovered empty tomb and corporeal post-mortem appearances of Jesus are legends, as many scholars believe is the case?

Subheadings give an idea of what to expect (I have not yet had an opportunity to more than quickly skim the article):

  • Introduction
  • What is Cognitive-Dissonance-Induced Rationalization?
  • Model #1: Leon Festinger’s Cult Group Study
  • Model #2: The Millerites
  • Model #3: Sabbatai Sevi
  • Model #4: The Lubavitchers
  • Conclusion from Models
  • Preconditions to a Rationalization of Jesus’ Death
  • Jesus Died for Our Sins and Will Return Soon
  • The Resurrection Belief
  • From the Resurrection Belief to Visions of Jesus to the Early Creed
  • Summary of the Rationalization Hypothesis
  • A Critique of the Bereavement Vision Hypothesis
  • Conclusion

It looks like a significant contribution to further testing of various hypotheses accounting for Christian origins.

I have been critical of the cognitive dissonance theory to explain a historical turning point leading to Christianity but Komarnitsky obviously explores this psychological explanation in a depth that I have not considered before. Some of his points coincide with the reasons I have dismissed the validity of the theory, but he adds so much more that I have yet to read more carefully and consider. From what I have noticed at this point, some of the data and proposals of Komarnitsky may well have a relevance to alternative modes of Christian origins, that is, even apart from a historical background to the gospel resurrection narratives.

Almost at random, some interesting passages that I have noticed by chance:

The answer to the second question – why did the Messiah have to die – could have been formed from Jewish beliefs about measure-for-measure recompense and vicarious sacrifice when dealing with God. An example of such beliefs can be found in the aqedah story, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac in return for God’s blessing and favor (Gen. 22.1-19). By the first century, this story had become embellished to emphasize that Isaac was a willing sacrifice: “[Isaac] was pleased with this discourse.…So he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed” (Ant. 1.13.4).

. . . .

These new beliefs were a creative interpretation and reconfiguration of Jewish beliefs about measure-for-measure recompense and vicarious sacrifice when dealing with God, great prophets ascending to heaven, the final immortal body, the state of existence of souls in heaven, and possibly Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings and some minor Hellenistic influences. 

. . . .

However, once one integrates cognitive-dissonance-induced rationalization into the bereavement vision hypothesis, the question posed by this article logically follows: Is a vision of Jesus even necessary for the rise of the resurrection belief? 

I look forward to engaging with the post as soon as opportunity permits.

 

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7 Comments

  • db
    2019-01-06 02:24:24 UTC - 02:24 | Permalink

    • Portraying Isaac as willing.

    Abraham Kuruvilla (2012) [now formatted]. “The Aqedah (Genesis 22): What Is the Author Doing With What He Is Saying ?“. Jets. 55 (3): 489–508.

    [Per Isaac as a willing partner]

    • In Tg. Ps.–J. on Gen 22:10, the son exhorts his father,

    “Bind me well that I may not struggle in the agony of my soul and be pitched into the pit of destruction and a blemish be found in your offering”

    (so also Tg. Neof. and Gen. Rab. 56:8).

    • Josephus even has Isaac being so “pleased” with the news of his fate, that he “went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed” (Ant. 1.13.4).

    Later in the history of interpretation, Isaac is also supposed to have bound himself (Sipre Deut 32).
    —(p. 491)

    • db
      2019-01-06 02:52:50 UTC - 02:52 | Permalink

      Godfrey, Neil (18 May 2008). “The offering of Isaac: its evolution into the template of the Jesus event: 1”. Vridar.

      Levenson’s argument is that the Jewish interpretations of the Aqedah (the story of the Binding of Isaac at his moment of sacrifice by Abraham) developed into an etiology of the Passover, and Isaac himself eventually became a willing sacrificial victim for the redemption of Israel. These interpretations can be traced from the second century b.c.e. Chistianity displaced this Isaac legend with its theology of the Jesus crucifixion.

      Godfrey, Neil (9 July 2008). “The Isaac and Joseph Christologies; & rivalry for Scripture & Father”. Vridar.

      This post concludes the series outlining key aspects of Levenson’s argument that the Christian narrative of the atoning and saving death and resurrection of the Beloved (Only) Son was borrowed from late Second Temple Jewish midrashic interpretations of their scriptures about Isaac, Joseph and others.

  • Christine
    2019-01-06 19:20:25 UTC - 19:20 | Permalink

    I don’t know if anyone has looked into Mandaeans’ version of history which is different from Christian. I look for connections to Christianity since their prophet is and was John the Baptist, a Nazarite. It follows that Jesus was Nazarite being cousin, if the New Testament story is true. I have come not to accept the NT story because it was written by rivals and enemies of the Nazarites according to Mandaeans. Mandaeans have absolutely no use of Abraham. They think Abraham lost his mind and thought it would please his god if he killed his son Isaac. They have no use for Moses from which his people used blood next to the door to tell their god not to hurt the dwellers of the house. To them, these stories are absolute nonsense. They have alternative stories because they were involved in those pasts.

    Christianity is a religion that presents it’s god as the only god that can save and heal. Whereas John, who taught healing, came from the opposite direction. John’s teachings were not about a human being helpless and God an all powerful and all mighty god, but that a human has the ability to heal himself, therefore, “Physician heal thyself.” According to Mandaeans Jesus didn’t say “Physician heal thyself.” John said it.

  • mbuckley3
    2019-01-06 19:21:50 UTC - 19:21 | Permalink

    Regarding the general question of Christian origins, examining ‘the resurrection experience of the first disciples’ seems dubious. As the (seriously capable) patristics scholar Markus Vinzent put it in his ‘Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity’ : “Especially in datable early Christian writings up to around 140 AD a surprising number of texts do not refer to Christ’s resurrection at all…Even in later writings..most curiously, the Resurrection is not introduced or referred to even in some tracts that deal with the resurrection of the dead”; iconographically, “prior to the fourth century even symbolic depictions of the Resurrection are almost entirely missing”.
    On the balance of evidence, we might infer that the Corinthian Christian non-believers in the/a resurrection were not an anomaly. Rather, it is Paul who is peculiar, idiosyncratic, with his secretly-revealed ‘risen’ Christ. The prominence of Paul in the canon distorts our view.
    Vinzent, of course, sees Marcion’s ‘rediscovery’ of Paul, and the reaction to it, as the catalyst for ‘resurrection mania’ in the later second century onwards.
    According to his blog, Vinzent is writing a longer book on Christian beginnings : “a story of stories that moves scene by scene back towards the beginnings without claiming that any of these stories provide us with the one or the correct history of the beginnings. Instead it will show that our master-narrative today is but a revamped version of what has been constructed towards the late second through to the early fifth century”.
    Neil, for one, will appreciate Vinzent’s procedure of putting an explicit discussion of methodology up front and central in making his argument . Both of us will appreciate the promised translation from German…

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-08 05:36:11 UTC - 05:36 | Permalink

      I look forward to reading his next book.

  • 2019-01-09 21:20:33 UTC - 21:20 | Permalink

    This is my latest reply to his post:

    I think what you’ve put forward is very interesting, but I’ll provide a bit more of my explanation and you can see what you think.

    Some small Jewish cult was worshiping a heavenly messiah they called Jesus/Joshua (same name, different translation). This figure was similar in nature to Enoch or Melchizedek (Qumran & letter to the Hebrews) or other similar archangel or “second god” type figures popular among some Jewish sects at this time.

    The story of this “son of God” is that he was an eternal being, the Logos, through which God created the world. The son of God was going to pass judgement on the world at the end of days and create a new perfect world for the righteous to live in forever while the ungodly would be eternally damned.

    This is all very similar to stories like those found in the book of Enoch and writings from Qumran.

    A particular Jesus narrative was developed, based on interpretations of the scriptures by prophets (as Paul describes), in which the son of God descends from the high heavens to become a final sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind (as described by Paul and the letter to the Hebrews).

    The idea that Jesus had died and been resurrected comes from this narrative, all of which is based on prophetic interpretations of scriptures – it has nothing to do with any real person.

    After the First Jewish-Roman War some follower of Paul then wrote what we call the Gospel of Mark. This story presents a narrative in which the mythic Jesus preached by Paul was anthropomorphized and cast in a story about how the Jews brought the war upon themselves and were being punished by their own god. The extensive evidence for this is presented in the book, dealing largely with analysis of the literary references used in the Gospel of Mark, of which basically every scene is based on literary references.

    After the Gospel of Mark was written, other copies of it were made (the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John) and these stories became quite popular and were believed literally.

    There were no real early followers who witnessed a real Jesus die and came to believe that he somehow rose from the dead. The original Jesus worshipers were worshiping a mythic heavenly deity with a resurrection narrative derived from scriptures. By the mid first century all of those people were dead and gone and the Gospel narratives took over, leading everyone to believe that this was a literally real event. There is no need to explain how people could come to believe that a person who died and didn’t come back to life had actually risen from the dead. That whole idea comes only from the Gospels and is entirely fictional.I think what you’ve put forward is very interesting, but I’ll provide a bit more of my explanation and you can see what you think.

    Some small Jewish cult was worshiping a heavenly messiah they called Jesus/Joshua (same name, different translation). This figure was similar in nature to Enoch or Melchizedek (Qumran & letter to the Hebrews) or other similar archangel or “second god” type figures popular among some Jewish sects at this time.

    The story of this “son of God” is that he was an eternal being, the Logos, through which God created the world. The son of God was going to pass judgement on the world at the end of days and create a new perfect world for the righteous to live in forever while the ungodly would be eternally damned.

    This is all very similar to stories like those found in the book of Enoch and writings from Qumran.

    A particular Jesus narrative was developed, based on interpretations of the scriptures by prophets (as Paul describes), in which the son of God descends from the high heavens to become a final sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind (as described by Paul and the letter to the Hebrews).

    The idea that Jesus had died and been resurrected comes from this narrative, all of which is based on prophetic interpretations of scriptures – it has nothing to do with any real person.

    After the First Jewish-Roman War some follower of Paul then wrote what we call the Gospel of Mark. This story presents a narrative in which the mythic Jesus preached by Paul was anthropomorphized and cast in a story about how the Jews brought the war upon themselves and were being punished by their own god. The extensive evidence for this is presented in the book, dealing largely with analysis of the literary references used in the Gospel of Mark, of which basically every scene is based on literary references.

    After the Gospel of Mark was written, other copies of it were made (the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John) and these stories became quite popular and were believed literally.

    There were no real early followers who witnessed a real Jesus die and came to believe that he somehow rose from the dead. The original Jesus worshipers were worshiping a mythic heavenly deity with a resurrection narrative derived from scriptures. By the mid first century all of those people were dead and gone and the Gospel narratives took over, leading everyone to believe that this was a literally real event. There is no need to explain how people could come to believe that a person who died and didn’t come back to life had actually risen from the dead. That whole idea comes only from the Gospels and is entirely fictional.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-09 21:44:38 UTC - 21:44 | Permalink

      Looks like you’ve doubled up on cut and paste there. Can you repost a version without the dups? Thanks

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