Jesus and an Embarrassment-Free Baptism

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by Neil Godfrey

A widespread understanding in much of the literature about the historical Jesus is that Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is an indisputable fact. The reason for such certainty is said to be that no follower of Jesus would fabricate a story in which Jesus appeared to submit to the authority of John; the event was too well known to be avoided.) That is, an appeal to what is called the “criterion of embarrassment”.

A handful of scholars (e.g. Arnal, Mack, Vaage) have expressed doubts about the historicity of the episode by appealing to its “mythic” character. Others have pointed to the dialogue in the first appearance of the scene in the Gospel of Mark (John says Jesus is greater than he), followed by the Gospel of Matthew’s dialogue in which Jesus has to persuade John to go through with the ceremony (John protests that Jesus should baptism him), then the brief incidental reference to the baptism in the Gospel of Luke (John is arrested and then we have a sideways remark, “Jesus also being baptized”….), through to the Gospel of John failing to mention the baptism completely.

So we see from the arguments attempting to explain the baptism that in at least one gospel the baptism could quite well be simply ignored. Further, as one reader here pointed out,

These allegedly embarrassing undeniable facts are being spread by the Christians themselves. It stands to reason that these story elements serve a purpose in the narrative.

We can also identify many verses in the Old Testament that the author of the Gospel of Mark used in order to flesh out the appearance, setting and words of John the Baptist but those details are for another time.

If the baptism of Jesus was fabricated by the earliest evangelist then we naturally want to know why.

One explanation that is sometimes suggested is that the Gospel of Mark presents an “adoptionist” Jesus. That is, Jesus the man only became a “son of God” at the baptism when the spirit entered into him. If so, then Jesus only became John’s “superior” after he had been baptized.

But reflecting on another recent post, Jesus’ Baptism Based on Abraham’s Binding of Isaac?, I think I can see another explanation, one that does not rely upon the adoptionist view of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

If baptism in the Gospel of Mark is a symbol of death (as it is in the Epistle to the Romans and in Jesus’ own direct use of baptism as a metaphor for his crucifixion) it would follow, I think, that the baptism of Jesus would be no more embarrassing that Jesus’ crucifixion. (Given the way Paul finds himself boasting about Christ’s crucifixion and the way Mark makes the crucifixion as a central theme of his entire work I cannot accept that claim that early Christians were so “embarrassed” by it that they sought ways to explain and apologize for it.)

By opening his mission with baptism Jesus is said to have begun his earthly career with a symbolic act pointing to his death and subsequent glory.

That explanation would also help us understand why there is no baptism scene in the Gospel of John. That gospel consistently stressed the glory and power of Jesus and remove any “less than perfect” or “less than all-powerful” human attributes. If so, then there was no more room for Jesus to be baptized than there was that the Gospel of John’s Jesus would be in torment or helplessly arrested in Gethsemane.



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22 thoughts on “Jesus and an Embarrassment-Free Baptism”

  1. I would like to follow the implications from the premise (that the baptism is not embarrassing since the baptism is allegory of the crucifixion, and the latter is not embarrassing).

    If baptism = crucifixion, then who is John the Baptizer? He would be the “killer” of Jesus, during the baptism.

    Is John surprised in virtue of the effects of the baptism, just as the centurion is surprised about the effects of the crucifixion? In that precise moment, John seems not realize nothing about the baptism of Jesus, in Mark.

    But then he is said, in Luke, to be surprised/scandalized about the “new” teaching of Jesus (“are you the coming Christ?”). But there is not this surprise/scandal, in Mark.

    So, what is the effect of the baptism of Jesus, for John, in Mark? The his immediate imprisonment, after precisely the time of 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness.

    We know that, precisely 40 years after the presumed death of Jesus in the fiction, Jerusalem is captured by the Romans. As RG. Price explains, the Jews kill Jesus, and God destroyes the Jews (by using the Romans).

    So, John “kills” Jesus during the baptism, and after 40 days, God destroyes John (by using Herod).

    So the message is: the fate of John the Baptizer prefigures the fate of the Jews the Killers.

    1. Already Jean Magne demonstrated that John the baptiser (falsely so-called) is wholesale a late corruption stemming from a step by step Judaization and Euhermerization of the heraldic figure of mystery cults, such as the one from the fourth tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum. Mark’s gospel is at the late end of a long development and by no means the earliest account of Johnny B and Jesus.

    2. who is John the Baptizer? He would be the “killer” of Jesus, during the baptism.

      If purification by immersion was central to the practice of temple priests, then perhaps John the Baptizer represented a temple priest.

    1. … compare:

      John then asks God to baptize him: “Now, place your hand of truth upon me, and your great authority of healing. Pronounce upon me the name of the first life.” But Manda d’Hayye informs John that the baptism He gives signals the death of all that is terrestrial: “If I place my hand upon you, you will separate from your body.”


      Mk 10:38-39 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.

      1. John the Baptist is considered an early example of Merkabah/Merkavah [Chariot] mysticism, which continued to develop into producing a distinct set of writings (leaving its impression on Rabbbinic Judaism, as well). What was formerly termed “Hekhalot literature” (visit to the heavenly temple) is now considered to belong to the wider category of Merkabah mysticism.

        Meditating on the Merkava[h], the Chariot Throne, was one of the two main streams of early Jewish mysticism (the other one was meditating on creation). This stream centered on visions such as those found in the Book of Ezekiel chapter 1 (about the chariot) and Isaiah 6 (about the Temple), or in the hekhalot (‘palaces’ or ‘sanctuaries’) literature concerning stories of ascents to the heavenly palaces and the Throne of God (despite the word Merkabah not explicitly appearing in Ezekiel 1).

        In a ground-breaking study, Rachel Elior determined such Jewish Mysticism emerged as an alternative focus for spirituality in the absence of the Temple, embracing a mystical world devoted to sustaining religious liturgical tradition and ritual memory based on supertemporal relationships with ministering angels in supernal sanctuaries [Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization)  1st Edition]. 

        The key Hekhalot literature (such as Maaseh Merkabah, ‘Working of the Chariot’) are accounts of mystical ascents into heaven, divine visions, and the summoning and control of angels, usually for the purpose of gaining insight into Torah.

        John was often portrayed or described as a revelatory prophet who saw [fore-saw?] ‘heaven’s mysteries’, a tradition that seems to go back to Palestine and a re-baptizing group.

         Daniel Boyarin and Alan Segal have regarded Paul the Apostle’s accounts of his conversion experience and his ascent to the heavens as the earliest first person accounts we have of a Merkabah mystic in Jewish or Christian literature (Timothy Churchill has argued that Paul’s Damascus road encounter does not fit the pattern of Merkabah, and notes this experience is not described in Paul’s letters. He also noted Acts does not claim to be a first-person account).

    2. Effectively, the Mandean episode about John’s baptism reflects more the Matthean version, since there John realizes the identity of who he is going to baptize reluctantly (while in Mark he didn’t realize it). The ”fulfill all righteousness” of Matthew 3:15 would be both the purification of the spiritual John (=new Israel) and the death of the carnal John (=old Israel). The same ambivalent meaning of Matthew 17:25.

      But in Mark it is hard to see a redemption of John: his sin is the absolute ignorance about the identity of the baptized Jesus, the same sin of the Jews (and of the Archons in Paul). And John is buried without hope of resurrection. His baptism comes “from heaven” (Mark 11:31), insofar the death of Jesus is wanted by God (and the pharisees didn’t know this). But his baptism comes “from men” insofar the death of Jesus is the sin of the Jews (and the entire people of the Jews didn’t accept this).

  2. The baptism or rebirth/purification ritual is something that every initiate had to go through. The king(Jesus is a king) goes through a royal initiation ceremony where he becomes deified or connected with god. Here’s an example from Egyptian royal ceremonies.

    “Temples of Ancient Egypt” Edited by Byron E Shafe:
    “The royal ka was the immortal creative spirit of divine kingship, a form of the Creator’s collective ka. The ka of a particular king was but a specific instance, or fragment, of the royal ka…Possessing the royal ka and being possessed by it were potential at a person’s birth, but they were actualized only at his coronation, when his legitimacy upon the Horus Throne of the Living was confirmed and publicly claimed. Only at a person’s coronation did he take on a divine aspect and cease to be solely human. Only in retrospect could he be portrayed as predestined by the Creator to rule Egypt as truly perfect from the beginning, as divine seed, son of the Creator, the very flesh of god, one with the Father, god’s incarnation on earth, his sacred image”

    Lannie Bell, “Luxor Temple and the Cult of the Royal Ka,” JNES 44(1985) 257:
    “The representation of this Ka is intended as proof of his divine origins and sufficient evidence that he was predestined to rule. But he actually becomes divine only when he becomes one with the royal Ka, when his human form is overtaken by this immortal element…This happens at the climax of the coronation ceremony when he assumes rightful place on the “Horus-throne of the living.””

    “A Companion to Ancient Egypt” edited by Alan B. Lloyd pg206:
    “During this central ceremony of Kingship, a more or less ordinary mortal, whom many of the elite had known on a personal level, was transfigured into a living god…Those that remained more or less inviolate symbolically alluded to the original unification of Upper and Lower Egypt (such as the union of the Two Lands and the Circuit of the Walls) or to the king’s control of the four directions (such as the shooting of arrows to the four cardinal directions and the king’s baptism by the gods of the four cardinal points).”

    “Ancient Egypt” By David P. Silverman pg157:
    “In the scene referred to as “the Baptism of Pharaoh”, deities are depicted in the act of pouring a ritual libation over the king. The “waters” of the libation sometimes take the form of a stream of hieroglyphs, which include most frequently the ankh (“life”) and the was sceptre (“dominion”): in addition to it’s more apparent meaning, the scene therefore also represents the gods granting these gifts to Pharaoh.”

    “Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt” by Jan Assmann:
    “Thus, in many representations of water flowing out of a libation vessel, the water is depicted as a chain consisting of hieroglyphs for “life”… A spell for purifying the king could thus proclaim:

    Pharaoh is Horus in the primeval water.
    Death has no power over him.
    The gods are satisfied with Pharaoh’s purity. 28

    Whoever immersed himself in the primeval water escaped death and gained strength for new life.”

    “King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature” by Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins:
    “Reliefs at the temple of Amenophis III at Luxor show Amun touching the royal child and taking it in his arms. Another inscription of Amenophis III has the god declare: “He is my son, on my throne, in accordance with the decree of the gods.” At the coronation of Haremhab, Amun declares to him: “You are my son, the heir who came forth from
    my flesh.” Or again, in the blessing of Ptah, from the time of Rameses II: “I am your father, who have begotten you as a god and your members as gods.” Such recognition formulae occur frequently in Egyptian inscriptions of the New Kingdom period. Otto suggests that the psalm does not reflect direct Egyptian influence, since the closest
    Egyptian parallels date from the New Kingdom, before the rise of the Israelite monarchy. Rather, the Hofstil of pre-Israelite (Jebusite) Jerusalem may have been influenced by Egyptian models during the late second Millenium, and have been taken over by the Judean monarchy in Jerusalem… In light of this discussion, it seems very likely that the Jerusalem enthronement ritual was influenced, even if only indirectly, by Egyptian ideas of kingship.”

    So the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus is just part of the initiation process that the king would go through and then eventually the initiates into mystery cults would go through. There’s nothing embarrassing about it.

    “Becoming Divine: An Introduction to Deification in Western Culture” By M. David Litwa:
    “In the ancient world, typically only kings and pharaohs claimed the divine prerogatives of immortality and ruling power. Yet in the mysteries of Dionysus-the topic of chapter 3-deification was made available to all who underwent initiation”

    1. Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is in the role of the king/initiate. His baptism, transfiguration, and resurrection are all part of the initiation ceremony. John is in the role of the one who “opens the way” or “prepares the way”(Mark 1, Matt 3, John 1) for the king. He plays a role in the transfiguration and coming of the king/son of god.

      Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt by Jan Assmann:
      “Wepwawet was represented as a jackal standing on a standard that was carried in front of the king in processions during the Archaic Period for the purpose of “opening the way” for him during his processions…The judgment scene is followed by transfiguring invocations of the deceased. Their goal is to affirm the successful outcome of the Judgment of the Dead and the triumph of the deceased:

      O Osiris N., may the gate be opened to you by Seshat,
      and may the goodly ways be opened to you by Wepwawet!…
      Wepwawet, he opens the beautiful ways for you.”

      Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms edited by Miriam Lichtheim:
      “It also invokes his colleague the god Wep-waut (“Opener of the ways”), who played a prominent part in the annual procession and performance which enacted the life, death, and resurrection of Osiris.”

      Amenhotep III: Egypt’s Radiant Pharaoh By Arielle P. Kozloff:
      “The royal jubilee, or heb-sed, was a festival of renewal rooted in Egypt’s most ancient history…The Sed festival traditionally took place during the thirtieth year of the reign…Timing was crucial for the climax of the festival deep inside the royal tomb. There Pharaoh faced the images of the gods represented on his tomb walls and remained for a period of time before going to his funeral bed, where he “died” and was “reborn” in a series of rituals, incantations, and offerings…This resurrection was the culmination of a process of deification that had begaun with Amenhoteps III’s coronation. At the time, like all Egyptian kings, he was the representative and high priest of each god on earth.”

  3. Neil wrote

    The reason for such certainty is said to be that no follower of Jesus would fabricate a story in which Jesus appeared to submit to the authority of John; the event was too well known to be avoided.

    It might be more appropriate to say “[the] narrative of the event was too well known to be avoided”

  4. • Baptism as dying

    Godfrey, Neil (2 October 2011). “That Mysterious Young Man in the Gospel of Mark: Fleeing Naked and Sitting in the Tomb”. Vridar.

    • Early Christian baptismal imagery and practices •
    A. Baptism as dying and rising with Christ.

    Paul in Romans 6 shows us that there were early Christians who understood baptism’s immersion into water as symbolic of participating in the death of Jesus, and the emergence from the water as symbolic of participation (now or in the future) in the resurrected life of Christ.

    The same symbolism is found in later epistles also: Colossians 2:11-12; Ephesians 2:5-6; 1 Peter 3:18-22. Only once does the same symbolism appear in the Synoptic Gospels and that is in Mark 10:38-39:

    and Jesus said to them, `Ye have not known what ye ask; are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptized with — to be baptized?’
     And they said to him, `We are able;’ and Jesus said to them, `Of the cup indeed that I drink of, ye shall drink, and with the baptism that I am baptized with, ye shall be baptized

    In Mark’s gospel it is clear that the “cup and baptism” that the disciples of Jesus must share with him is his suffering and death. (Cup is a well-recognized Old Testament symbol of suffering.)

    Matthew 20:20-28 has significantly omitted Mark’s reference to baptism in the words of Jesus in this same episode. “Matthew seems to be opposed to this interpretation of baptism, perhaps as reflecting too much a pagan influence.” — footnote p. 537.

    Thus there can scarcely be any doubt that Mark 10:38-39 makes oblique reference to the sacraments and that, furthermore, the baptism is seen as a dying in relation to the dying of Christ.

    1. Baptism and initiation in the cult of Isis and Sarapis by Brook Pearson:
      “Because of the interest New Testament scholars have had in Rom. 6.1-11, the question of baptism in the Isis/Sarapis cult has received a certain amount of attention from this group. This has primarily been for the purpose of either ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ the existence of this act in the initiatory practices of the Isis/Sarapis cult as a parallel to Christian baptism, specifically in it’s formulation by Paul Rom. 6.1-11…This material from Apuleius provides us with more than enough evidence to suggest that the connection between baptism, death(symbolic, actual or simply the possibility thereof) and initiation into the cult of Isis would have existed in at least the popular mind… it seems important that we investigate the role that a baptismal ritual might have played for the individual initiate into the Isiac mysteries. Specifically, the connection between- or identification of- the myths of Isis and Osiris(now Sarapis) and the initiation process. To this question, two tentative answers may be offered. The first is that, as has been suggested in the past, the Isiac initiate, in baptism, identified with the god Osiris, whose death in the Nile was one of the central myths of the Isis cult… the identification of Osiris with Dionysus seems to have occupied a great deal of the discussion of the religious and mythical role of Osiris, and we should expect that recourse to the Dionysian mysteries, especially in their later Orphic form, would also be a legitimate avenue of research into the possibility of identification
      between the initiate into the Isiac mysteries and the dying and rising Osiris…In ancient times, the Osiris myth was the basis for what are perhaps the first mysteries- the lawful succession of the pharaohs, their burial and eventual union with Osiris in the afterlife. This ‘mystery’ eventually became something in which not only kings but other Egyptians
      could partake, and, in time, spread across the known world, along with the worship of Isis and Sarapis. For our purposes here, both of these elements separately and in combination suggest that the Isis initiate did indeed go through a process of identification with the god Osiris, and that this fact would have been the assumption behind the entire initiation process. In the first palce, the ancient form of the Isis-Osiris mysteries clearly has the kings, and later normal people, identifying with the god Osiris in the hope of unification with him in the afterlife (and even, possibly, in his resurrection). This is indisputable. We have no reason to think that the worship of Isis and Osiris (Sarapis), as it spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world, changed it’s essential myth in any great way. The initiate of the first century would surely have partaken in the mysteries akin to those practiced throughout the history of the Isiac cult. This is where the identification of Osiris and Dionysus becomes most important… As Griffiths (Apuleius of Madauros, p.52), an Egyptologist and scholar of the Isiac religion, puts it, ‘there is a parallel’ to the idea of identification with Christ ‘in the Isiac’s attitude to Osiris.

  5. I don’t necessarily have any answer here, but I see the baptism, transfiguration and crucifixion has three key linked scenes. It’s a progression and all of these things are highly related to one another.

    These are the three big events regarding the development of Jesus. We have the baptism of Jesus by JtB with JtB being “secretly” identified as Elijah, then we have the transfiguration where JtB’s secret identity is referenced with the questions about Elijah, then we have the crucifixion where there is appeal for Elijah to save Jesus (but he can’t because he has been killed).

    What it all means I’m not entirely sure, but it does seem to me that these three major events are tied together in the mind of the writer.

    I find the whole question of “embarrassment” complete nonsense that is derived from a completely unsupported perspective. The whole issue of embarrassment assumes that a perspective and objective of the writer of Mark for which there is no evidence. My view is that Christians from the very beginning of totally misunderstood Mark, and it never meant what even the earliest Christians and other Gospel writers thought it meant.

    1. Would you characterize Mark as a cultus handbook, published for intra-cultus distribution and not for public distribution.

      How many similar extant cultus handbooks are there from this period? I do not think we should expect any to have survived, unless popular preservation occurred as per Mark.

    2. “I don’t necessarily have any answer here, but I see the baptism, transfiguration and crucifixion has three key linked scenes. It’s a progression and all of these things are highly related to one another.”

      Yeah, these are all part of the process of becoming “divine”. It’s the same things that the king and initiates into mystery cults would go through. Baptism/purification, transfiguration, death, and resurrection/rebirth are all part of the ritual that transforms the king/initiate into a divine being. Some kings were even given a divine birth myth to show that they were the son of the creator. Jesus is being portrayed as the new king/messiah of the Jews so the writers of the gospels are having Jesus go through the royal initiation in the stories they’re writing.

      Becoming Divine: An Introduction to Deification in Western Culture” By M. David Litwa:

      “In an inscription from western Thebes (modern Luxor), the god Amun-Re hails Pharaoh Amenhotep III as “my son of my body, my beloved Nebmaatra, my living image, my body’s creation.” According to Egyptian lore, the god Amun-Re had visited Amenhotep’s mother Mutemwia in the form of her husband Thuthmoses IV…After the transfer of the divine “dew”, the God Amun-Re informs Mutemwia that the name of her child is “Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes…He shall exercise the beneficent kingship in this whole land, he shall rule the Two Lands[of Egypt] like Re forever.” Such is the miraculous birth of Pharaoh Amenhotep III…

      The Search for God in Ancient Egypt” By Jan Assmann:

      “The story…has to do with the divine descent of the royal child. Amun, king of the gods, decides to engender a new king in whose hands rule over the world will be placed,one who will build temples to deities and increase their offerings, and in whose time abundance and fertility will reign. A mortal woman strikes his fancy; Thoth the divine messenger ascertains that she is none other than the queen herself… The story is also familiar to us today and is still told in a varient that differs in only one respect from the Egyptian version: the kingdom of Christian tradition is not of this world. But Egyptian tradition prepared the way for even this transposition. At a specific point in Egyptian history, the myth changed it’s form and it’s point of reference. It became a festival drama that was enacted one or more times each year in all the larger temples in the land, and it referred, not to the birth of the king, but to that of the child god in respective temple triads. Now it was the new god who came into the world and ascended the throne. In this version, the emphasis of the myth shifted from it’s legitimizing to it’s explanatory and meaning-imparting function…Because welfare was no longer embodied in the king, a festival drama was enacted to relate–or, rather, celebrate–how a god
      had come to bring salvation into the world.”

      Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization” By Barry J. Kemp (second edition):

      …the ka of the king was part of the divine essence shared by the gods and by the royal ancestors. Each new royal ka, created at the moment of the future king’s conception (and depicted thus in the scenes of the king’s divine birth), represented the next encapsulation of divine power in the sequence that stretched back through the long line of ancestral kings to the period when the gods had ruled in person. The indestructible royal ka existed in parallel to the life of the living king, it’s earthly manifestation, and gave the king his legitimacy. It was, of course, only an idea. But like all important religious ideas it was given a greater semblance of reality through the performance ritual. Luxor temple was the focus of that ritual, it’s decoration giving great prominence to the king’s ka. The procession of the Opet Festival took the king to the temple. Leaving the crowds outside he entered and proceeded in the company of priests to the enclosed chambers at the back. There, in a charged incense-laden atmosphere and the mystic presence of the god Amun (and his ithyphallic manifestation Amun-Min), the king and his ka were merged, and the king’s person transformed. When the king reappeared, he did so miraculously transformed into a divine being, ‘Foremost of all the living Kas’. His reappearance in public freshly transfigured was the real climax…

      Notice in the above quote the royal “Ka” was shared by previous kings. In GMatt when Jesus is transfigured he’s seen with Elijah and Moses, previous prophets. They all share the “spirit of god” like the pharaohs shared the royal “ka”. It’s a royal initiation ceremony.

      1. I’ve added links to the titles you quote from. I’d like to follow those up for background information. (I’ve posted before on Assmann’s methods and Litwa’s work.) I am not keen on seeing a direct borrowing from Egyptian rituals by Christians for reasons I think I’ve already set out. But the more we know about the lives and literature of the ancient world the richer our vision of early Christianity’s world becomes.

        There’s a chapter by Assmann about “Water rites in ancient Egypt” in the same book I cited in another comment: In Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity — but it is in German.

        1. “I am not keen on seeing a direct borrowing from Egyptian rituals by Christians for reasons I think I’ve already set out.”

          Yeah, I can understand that. I personally suspect there may have been some direct borrowing, mainly from the Hellenistic cult of Isis and Serapis but I also think that these initiation rituals that involved the king and initiates into the mystery cults were just a part of the culture that Christianity came out of.

          “There’s a chapter by Assmann about “Water rites in ancient Egypt” in the same book I cited in another comment: In Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity — but it is in German”

          I would like to read that. You can trace the death and rebirth baptism/water rituals from Ancient Egypt to the Hellenic cult Of Isis and Serapis to Christianity. I’m not sure if you find anything like a baptism/water ritual that involves identifying with a dying and resurrecting savior in 2nd temple Judaism.

  6. There is no ’embarrassment’ to the story whatsoever other than that the whole Jesus story is about ’embarrassment’ of deity being constrained. Embarrassment the point of the Jesus story.

    Please allow me a rant on how embarrassing this argument of embarrassment is. I will argue from the perspective I had as a believing child, and from, I suspect, which I think was nearly identical to the standard perspective of millions of Christians throughout the ages, as well as a perspective a nonbeliever can reasonably have. I think it is really one that probably most people share other than perhaps some academics. To me as a child, and I suspect for millions throughout the ages, the baptism story fit perfectly, because it is no more ’embarrassing’ than anything else in the entire Jesus story, which is a story of ’embarrassment.’

    Being born — think of all the messy fluids, the crying — virgin or no virgin how ’embarrassing’ is that for a deity? And why if a deity is born, why not in fact in the fanciest palace as the top prince around rather than in a manger? Having to eat, or at least having to give the appearance of having to eat, as is implied in the gospels — how demeaning for a deity!!! Surely a deity could survive on inhaled air (or less) and not have to pretend otherwise! And for a deity to be imprisoned in flesh — that must be as embarrassing as it can get in deity-world. Then there’s having to put up with people trying to school you, having to persuade people to become disciples, having to get some sense into these dunderhead disciples. Having crowds that, even if friendly, are — really by definition — infinitely too small for what is required by the status of God.

    To submit one’s self to a superior for baptism would be part of the routine of the era. It is almost jarring that it isn’t “embarrassing” enough in that the baptism is by a super-duper extra-special baptizer who was momentarily seemingly extra-extra-superior to one’s self.

    The whole narrative is one of embarrassment. That’s what it’s about. The embarrassment is the essence and substance of the entire story. Sometimes popular opinion is entirely wrong. However I believe that almost everyone throughout the ages, believers and nonbelievers, have recognized that the entire Jesus story is one of ’embarrassment’ and correctly so. That’s what the whole Jesus story is about. That’s basic.

    1. I think I can understand where you are coming from. Yes, when we imagine ourselves in such situations and think of real-life details of the kind you have referred to, yes, there is all that related embarrassment. But when we are doing historical inquiry, we have to work by different rules. One of the fundamental rules is to work only with the words in the text. We never bring other experiences into the text but always try to work with nothing but the words that the author has chosen to put down for us to read.

      1. The creators and editors of the Jesus stories themselves may well have understood and desired that the story contain ’embarrassment’ (that it was a key feature, not a bug). The point of the whole Jesus story as it now exists and has existed for centuries is one of ’embarrassment’: deity made flesh, in a position where he has to go through with being crucified and mocked. Whether hypothetically speaking we assume the current Jesus story was concocted in the 2nd or 3d century or whether it is historical, its creators almost surely saw as intrinsic to the story the paradox of the ’embarrassing’ situation of deity being humiliated one way or another, whether directly, by having to submit, or by having apparent successes overturned but just continuing on with dignity.

        As usual I may have written poorly, but the point is that whoever created the narrative, whether (hypothetically speaking) they were reporting what they had witnessed or were creating fiction, very likely saw Jesus as having strength-through-weakness-and-humiliation (various’embarrassing’ conditions). It’s not just I or the tens if not hundreds of millions of people over many centuries who have seen the Jesus story as one of persistent put-downs, frustrations, and mockery by events and people (“embarrassments”), but quite likely the creators of the orthodox versions of the stories themselves saw the story much the same way. The certainly wrote as if that is what they could have meant to such an extent that it seems perverse to imagine that they didn’t intend to record a story of a successive diverse ’embarrassments’ culminating in the crucifixion between two thieves having to go through the script of asking the father-deity why-have-you-forsaken-me.

        It is the scholars who may be overthinking things by imagining that ’embarrassment’ might be a problem rather than a key intended point or even the main intended point. I think their ’embarrassment’ argument is emperor-without-clothes wrong. Divinity degrees etc notwithstanding, they don’t seem to Get what the Jesus story of basic Christianity is about and has been intended to be from at least fairly close to its beginning by its earliest writers, at least those whose versions prevailed: serial ’embarrassments’ borne with dignity. ‘Embarrassment’ strengthens the story, and would have seemed absolutely congruent with it even (to give an extreme example) to a hypothetical believing disciple of a historical Jesus who had witnessed one defeat or overturned success after another just as much as to some editor in the 2nd or 3d century.

  7. ‘Embarrassment’ is so much the point of the entire Jesus story what with the ’embarrassment’ of deity being crucified between two thieves after having to suffer the humiliation (arguably even more touchy for a deity than being crucified) of becoming mere Flesh that–

    if it weren’t for the need to have OT references and have him get some sort of special treatment, in view of the way he gets kicked around or at least misunderstood enough throughout the rest of his life that–

    it would fit the narrative fairly nicely if some 4-th rate itinerant drunk were to come around baptizing Jesus along with 46 other kids, nearly forget him in the river, and then him half-drowned out calling him ‘Jessica’ by mistake and then drop him in the mud. When Jesus gets any breaks in the gospels they are temporary and partial, almost as if mockery. (Here, for example, the fancy John the Baptist, in theory a potential mentor for a great Messiah, gives him the special baptism treatment–but John ends up getting executed.) Keeping, even growing, an essential dignity no matter what while being mocked, embarrassed, destroyed, where even the little successes seem at best ambiguous, is the story.

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