Once More We Rub Our Eyes: The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus is No Human Character?

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by Neil Godfrey

Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare

Here’s a snippet of something I came across while venturing into all sorts of pathways to check the claims of, and/or to learn the background to, various publications by scholars of some note.

The common starting-point of all three writers [Smith, Robertson, Drews] is that the earliest Gospel narratives do not “describe any human character at all; on the contrary, the individuality in question is distinctly divine and not human, in the earliest portrayal. As time goes on it is true that certain human elements do creep in, particularly in Luke and John…… In Mark there is really no man  at all; the Jesus is God, or at least essentially divine throughout. He wears only a transparent garment of flesh. Mark historizes only.”

. . .

“The received notion,” adds Professor Smith, “that in the early Marcan narratives the Jesus is distinctly human, and that the process of deification is fulfilled in John, is precisely the reverse of the truth.” Once more we rub our eyes. In Mark Jesus is little more than that most familiar of old Jewish figures, an earthly herald of the imminent kingdom of heaven; late and little by little he is recognized by his followers as himself the Messiah whose advent he formerly heralded. As yet he is neither divine nor the incarnation of a pre-existent quasi-divine Logos or angel. In John, on the other hand, Jesus has emerged from the purely Jewish phase of being Messiah, or servant of God (which is all that Lord or Son of God implies in Mark’s opening verses). He has become the eternal Logos or Reason, essentially divine and from the beginning with God. Here obviously we are well on our way to a deification of Jesus and an elimination of human traits; and the writer is so conscious of this that he goes out of his way to call our attention to the fact that Jesus was after all a man of flesh and blood, with human parents and real brethren who disbelieved in him.

(Conybeare 85f. My highlighting)

I use to accept Conybeare’s “obvious” overview of the development of Jesus in the four gospels. The progression of Jesus from human to increasingly divine was, after all, one of the themes that pointed to the sequence in which they were thought to have been composed. First, the crude Mark with his bumbling Jesus who needs a few attempts to heal sometimes, then the more exalted Jesus who passes through life with more poise and control, even showing his post-resurrection self to his followers, then Luke’s Jesus who vanishes before people’s eyes and reappears in the middle of a closed room, and finally the most thoroughly divine Jesus in the Gospel of John.

After a while I came to have doubts about that interpretation. The Gospel of Mark was surely more symbolic in its characterizations, settings and actions, and it made very little sense as a genuine history or biography. The people simply did not act like real people. The Jesus portrayed in Mark’s gospel did not come across as the sort of figure anyone could possibly want to follow, least of all simply drop everything, home, family and livelihood, merely by being called by a stranger on the beach.

William Benjamin Smith

So I had some sympathy for the view that clearly dismayed Conybeare. Still, the way Conybeare presented it, it did sound a stretch, so I checked what Smith had to say to get his side of the story. Conybeare did not explain the reasons Smith set out for his conclusion; he merely expressed incredulity at his conclusion. Here are Smith’s justifications for his assertion (the subheadings are mine):

Only a few salient features of the situation can be presented, and the reader must be advertised in advance that it is the general consensus of indications that constitutes the strength of our position, and not any two nor any half-dozen single indications, be they never so direct and telling. Since, then, it is quite impossible to discuss these minute matters exhaustively in this connection, the reader will please take the following as samples only :—

The Unknown Background of Jesus

(1) Mark says naught about any early history of the Jesus ; apparently he knows of none ; in fact, it is demonstrable that the accounts both of Matthew and of Luke are pure imaginations. Now the fact that these elaborate and thoroughly contradictory stories were invented proves that fantasy played round the theme, that there arose a demand at least for ideas concerning it ; but if there had been any facts in the case these must have been in some measure accessible ; that none were ascertained indicates that none were ascertainable, that such facts did not really exist.

Moreover, Mark does not claim to be telling an historical tale ; he is concerned avowedly with the doctrine—“ Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (i, 1). Certainly he gives this an historical form ; he historises, but he does not profess to write history.

If the Jesus was such an impressive human personality, it seems strange that the earliest narrator should think solely of a body of dogma, and not at all of the character of that marvellous human being.

(As has been pointed out elsewhere, the absence of any background life of a protagonist is a standard trope of folk tales and other fictional stories. Of course, it does not follow that on such a point alone that the author was fabricating his tale.)

No More Emotion than Attributed to God

(2) Mark nowhere applies to the Jesus any term that would indicate any impressive or even amiable human personality, or in fact any human personality whatever. On the contrary, the distinctive terms are such as would naturally be used of a God, in fact of Jehovah, and not of a man. The few apparent exceptions will serve to prove this rule.

(a) Three or four times (in Mark) the Jesus is said to have “had compassion” on the people (i, 41 ; vi, 34 ; viii, 2 ; x, 22), in Matthew five times, thrice in Luke ; this “ compassion ” is one of the two chief traits of Jesus according to Schmiedel, and is perhaps the chief in the general conception. Surely compassion is most human. Yes, but it is also divine ; in fact, it is the especially divine attribute in he Oriental conception : “ Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” And now mark well. The Greek word is not idiomatically employed in this sense ; it is a mere imitation in Greek of the Hebrew raham (rahamim = bowels, mercies). Now this Hebrew term is continually and almost exclusively used (in the Old Testament) of or in connection with Jehovah. With only a few exceptions, it is solely Jehovah that is made subject of the verb, and these exceptions rather strengthen than weaken the rule. We may say, then, that the Greek word, as merely rendering the Hebrew, though it might be used of a man, is far fitter applied to Deity ; is, indeed, distinctive not of man, but of God ; as is also seen in the act that it is used only of the Jesus, with only three even apparent exceptions in all the New Testament : Matthew :viii, 27, where “the Lord of that servant” represents Jehovah ; Luke x, 33, of the Good Samaritan (symbolising a Divine Being?) ; Luke xv, 20, where the Father is God or he Jesus. Its practically exclusive predication of the Jesus clearly indicates, though it does not positively prove, that he was from the first conceived as Jehovah, or at least as a Vice-Deity.

(b) The term “rebuked” is used in Mark six times of Jesus (also frequently in the other Gospels). It is also used of others (thrice), and so in the other Gospels. Hence , too, appears distinctive of the Jesus. Now, however, it merely renders the Hebrew ga’ar, which, again, is used distinctively, though not peculiarly, of Jehovah (about eighteen ut of twenty-four times). Here, then, the indication is the same as in the foregoing case, though not so strong.

(c) The term “snort at” is used four times of the Jesus Mark i, 43 ; Matthew ix, 30; John xi, 33, 38), once of the disciples (Mark xiv, 5). The word is most rare, and seems extraordinary as applied to any man, most especially puzzling as applied to the gentle Jesus, particularly as it is hard to find any good reason for this “snorting.” However, the explanation is not far to seek. The word merely renders the Hebrew naharah (snorting, Jer. viii, 16), or neshamah, used regularly of the “blast of the nostrils” of Jehovah. Here, then, the application of the repellent word to the Jesus appears as natural and almost inevitable, only if the Jesus be thought as like Jehovah, so that the predicates of the latter are transferred to the former ; otherwise it remains perplexing and offensive.

(d) But is it not said that the Jesus “loved” the Rich One? Yes, indeed, in a most important pericope (Mark x, 21), the only one in which such a sentiment is ascribed to the Jesus, outside of the sentimentalising Fourth Gospel. Let us look narrowly at this instructive passage. This love for the Rich One appears very human, and yet is it not strange that such a feeling should well up only once in the life of the Jesus of the Synoptists? The phenomenon is certainly worth pondering. Now, in another connection I have proved beyond contradiction that the Rich One is and can be nothing else than Faithful Israel ; the mysterious figure is symbolical purely and only. Detailed proof cannot be given here, but clear indications may suffice.

(Smith, 96ff)

Smith expands on an interesting case for interpreting the Rich Man in Mark as a symbol for the Jewish nation. But I’ll save that for another time. You can read Smith’s explanation yourself, meanwhile, from page 98 at https://archive.org/details/eccedeusstudieso00smitrich

As I indicated above there are other reasons for interpreting Mark’s Jesus as a cipher, a type, a literary figure somehow beyond the genuinely human sphere. His refusal to make himself understood yet still attracting devoted followers is one more indication. Everything he is said to say is said to be in a parable and everything he does is also a parable. He is made to impatiently tell his disciples that there are allegorical meanings to his miracles. Scholars have further noted the symbolic associations of Galilee as a focus of many of his miracles in contrast to the meaning of Jerusalem where he is executed. There is much more to add but the primary point of this post was to introduce Smith’s reasons vis-à-vis Conybeare’s criticism.

Conybeare, F. C. (Frederick Cornwallis). 1914. The Historical Christ: Or, an Investigation of the Views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. a. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith. London : Watts.

Smith, William Benjamin. 1913. Ecce Deus: Studies of Primitive Christianity. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company.


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62 thoughts on “Once More We Rub Our Eyes: The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus is No Human Character?”

  1. • Conybeare, “the chief rationalist critic” (McCabe 1925) of the historical Jesus, does not approach the ahistorical Jesus arguments without prejudice.

    Conybeare, Frederick Cornwallis (1914). “Historical Method”. The Historical Christ: Or, An Investigation of the Views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith. Watts & Company. p. 42.

    [Per the hypothesis of a pre-Christian Jesus] I feel that I ought almost to apologize to my readers . . . for exhibiting over so many pages its fantastic, baseless, and absurd character.

    See: Godfrey, Neil (3 October 2018). “The more things change . . .” Vridar.

    1. What interests me are not such claims or biases in themselves, but the comparison of them with the supposedly supporting evidence, and what we learn as we uncover the earlier ideas.

  2. “I use to accept Conybeare’s “obvious” overview of the development of Jesus in the four gospels.”

    Neil! Doesn’t the development of Jesus! This is not development, this is a completely different religion. This is important to understand.

    1. I’m not talking about the “real Jesus’s” personal development but about the way the figure of Jesus is developed by different authors according to evolving theological (or christological) ideas.

        1. When one sees new theological ideas responding to earlier ones, and changing them in various ways, then one can speak of developing or evolving theology.

            1. • balivi, do you hold that the Jesus figure of the NT gospels (even gMark) has a Christology as the second-god and of preexistence?

              Godfrey, Neil (26 November 2018). “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”. Vridar.

              [I]n the Gospel of Mark the Jesus figure is most unlike any ordinary human figure in ancient (or modern) literature. He is a human, of course, with brothers and sisters and a mother, and he eats and drinks. But he is unlike any other figure in works that we know to be ancient biographies or histories. He is presented to us “cold”, that is, without us having any knowledge of who the biographer is or why he is even writing about him.
              subsequent evangelists (“Matthew” and “Luke” — even “John”, some would argue) changed Mark’s Jesus and disciples into somewhat more realistic figures. (“John”, on the other hand, went in the other direction and made him even less human.) “Luke” even reduces Jesus to a martyr in the tradition of the Maccabees.

              1. “John”, on the other hand, went in the other direction and made him even less human.”

                what are you talking about! In the Gospel of John, the act of Jesus the signs, and not the miracles, the his acts. This very human.

              2. “balivi, do you hold that the Jesus figure of the NT gospels (even gMark) has a Christology as the second-god and of preexistence?”

                Because Mark does not disclose family trees, so I think yes.

              3. I think that Mark’s allegory to Paul

                • Have you seen:
                Price, R. G. (11 April 2019). “The State of Scholarly Mythicism”. debunkingchristianity.blogspot. John W. Loftus.

                What Smith does in this book is essentially go through the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end and show where Mark makes use of the letters of Paul. He then shows where Matthew and Luke both copy from Mark and how the way that Matthew and Luke extend Mark was also informed by the letters of Paul. He also shows where Matthew and/or Luke use Paul independently.

                Cf. Smith, David Oliver (2011). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-61097-319-9.

              4. Thanx! Mark makes use of the letters of Paul. Yes. Just two examples:

                1 Cor 11:23-25 – Mark 14: 22-24 This information did not come from flesh and blood, this is Paul’s own teaching, what he received from the Lord, first written by Paul, and not a historical event. So did the Lord give Paul history via revelations? I don’t believe it for one minute.

                2Cor10: 12 – Mark 13:6 Paul’s opponents, whos says to themself: “I am”:-) or “measure themselves by themselves”, or who commend themselves, and compare themselves with themselves. Against them Paul and Mark warns.

                And perhaps most importantly: deep silence is the bodily resurrection.

              5. In the gMark interesting, that after Peter uses the term “messiah”, Jesus forbids Peter to speak of his faith, and he start talking about the “son of man”. Then when Peter began to rebuke him, that is, Peter continues to insist on his faith, Jesus calls him the Satan.
                It seems to me, that Jesus wants to draw Peter’s attention to, that he (Jesus) is not the Christ whom Peter is waiting for, or whom Peter believes.
                This whole story, it is placed in the context of blindness and vision. Jesus / Mark wanted to teach something. Jesus / Mark wanted to teach something through the person of Peter, about the faith.
                When Jesus Heals the Blind, then he does not expect the faith. When Jesus Heals the Blind, then he does not wait for the Christ- faith. It doesn’t heal the blind to see Jesus like the warrior king, as the Jews like see the Christ, but because, to see a “son of man”.
                Peter hasn’t learned this yet.

                But I’m going a little further if possible. I think Mark’s not talking about that Jesus (whom they see) is other type Christ, as the Jews like see the Christ. Not another type Christ, but also NOT the Christ.
                This is what I think, because I think Mark is a Paul analogy, where the death of Jesus (the Son of God), that reveals the Christ. It is forbidden to believe until the death of Jesus.
                I think this may be the background of the story.

              6. “John, on the other hand, went in the other direction and made him even less human.”
                what are you talking about! In the Gospel of John, the act of Jesus the signs, and not the miracles, the his acts. This very human.

                Really? When’s the last time you saw humans going around doing “miracles “? In GJohn Jesus is the other-worldly Logos of god, a Greek philosophical idea.

                Your gushing is slightly embarrassing.

            2. “In GJohn Jesus is the other-worldly Logos of god…”

              Most Trinitarians believe that the “logos of god” refers directly to Jesus Christ. It seems, you too. But there are not only Christian interpretations.
              Yes, the New Testament was not written in a vacuum, but was recorded in the context of a culture. But we can say with negative certainty that there is no direct connection between the Logos of John and the Logos known from the classical Greek philosophy (Heraklitus, Plato, Stoics, Plutarch).
              In a positive approach, we can say, there may be a connection between the Logos concept of Janos and the early Jewish wisdom literature. The Logos names in verse 1 are predominantly the early Jewish statements of “Wisdom”.

              I personally don’t think, that the Prologue is about Jesus.

              1. “But we can say with negative certainty that there is no direct connection between the Logos of John and the Logos known from the classical Greek philosophy (Heraklitus, Plato, Stoics.”

                Not true: Philo of Alexandria and it doesn’t have to be a direct connection. And you said yourself: “Yes, the New Testament was not written in a vacuum, but was recorded in the context of a culture. This does not have to be a direct connection necessarily.

              2. “I personally don’t think, that the Prologue is about Jesus.”

                Well maybe not your concept of Jesus. Maybe it’s a so called “heretical” concept of Jesus.

              3. It is debatable. Philon’s Logos is the radiation of One (God). At John, God himself is the logos. Of course, it is possible, that the prologue may have been edited.

              4. “It is debatable.” -Yes just about everything is, but dogmatic statements are not the place to begin a debate=“Philon’s Logos is the radiation of One (God). At John, God himself is the logos.”

                “Of course, it is possible, that the prologue may have been edited.”

                Possible, I think probable. A supposedly itinerant rabbi and poor illiterate fisherman?

                It’s more likely the proto-orthodox created this whole narrative from heretical gospels to bring them under there orthodoxy.

          1. A very important detail needs to be understood. Paul did not teach the resurrection. Paul EXPECTED, hoped- for, the resurrection of the dead! The author of the Timothy letter is against “who have left the truth, whom say that the resurrection has already taken place.”

            So there were groups, who say that the resurection has already taken place, and there were groups, who taught that the dead are not raised (1 Cor 15).
            It proves, when Paul speaks of faith, then he doesn’t talk about the resurrection. Paul wanted to give, the faith of Son to his audience. But Paul’s gospel is revealed “from faith to faith”. That means from the faith, for the other’s faith. From the “anointed” faith, to the “Son” faith. From the visible, for the not visible. There isn’t, none exists without the other.

            John and his circle, in contrast. This is not of developing or evolving theology. This is a another teology.

              1. unfortunately I could not read everything here. I don’t know what’s clear. there are things we can know. everyone is certain of what he knows. remove what you want, from my reply.

              2. No, balivi. I am not certain about what I think I know. I am always exploring and learning and asking new questions and revising old ones. Evidence often raises questions and makes us wonder about the possibility of certain processes that happened in the past, and we can suggest some of these possibilities, but always remain open to learning more.

              3. Therefore, this is a great blog. But forgive me Neil, unlike many scientists, I know exactly, what it means to be in the Christ. I’d lie if I said I didn’t know. And how do I know and understand, so I know, that gJohn is not talking about this. In addition to any Orthodox influence neither. I’ve already learned the lesson. I no more questions.

              4. You do understand, I hope, that my patience sometimes runs short when apologists post apologetics and other forms of “witnessing” here. They seem to forget I once thought and believed as they did and have deliberately rejected all of that faith-thinking now. This blog is meant for those with other interests.

              5. Balivi (you wrote “I know exactly, what it means to be in the Christ”). I am curious about what you were feeling when you wrote this and how you feel now about writing it. What were you thinking you would accomplish by writing it? Certainly, you must know your audience here and realize that if you are “witnessing”, “bragging” or claiming some sort of special knowledge/experience it is falling on deaf ears and quite futile.

                By the way, I am a professional hypnotist. “Mystical experiences” are very easy to induce and those that experience them find them quite profound and very “real”. Yet they are nothing but the byproduct of biochemistry.

              6. Possible the byproduct of biochemistry. I don’t understand the reason. I understand the doctrine, what Paul talking about, and what the half world wants to follow.

              7. balivi,

                You wrote “I do not defend the Christian faith…you misunderstood me”. I did indeed misunderstand you if your point in saying “I know exactly, what it means to be in the Christ” was not a statement of some sort of Christian experience” and accordingly implying special insight into “truth” as a result.

                If it is that you were talking about your opinion of Paul’s theology, that, to me is a worthy subject and I hope you will persevere. I love to read about different ideas, especially when coming from a place of learning and exploration.

  3. Neil: Reading Roger Parvus “Letters Supposedly written by Ignatius” on Vridar here he puts forth the idea that GJohn was a heretical gospel (Apelles?) that the pro-orthodox co-opted for themselves and modified it a bit for their own theology. I’m thinking maybe GMark started the same way and was modified the same way.

    1. Of course we know that the orthodoxy we see emerging through/after the second century did not exist when the Gospel of Mark was written, and if Mark was closely tied to Paul’s writings then there is a case to be made that, along with Paul’s writings, it was not at first accepted by those who were the early pioneers of what became our orthodoxy. I think Irenaeus says the gospel was used by the followers of Basilides. But as you suggest, it was presumably modified in some way to become part of our canon. Little oddities appear that seem to point to something missing or unexplained (e.g. why was the crowd “amazed” when they saw Jesus and the disciples descend from the mountain after the transfiguration.)

  4. I take a rather different approach. If the Jesus of Mark is not a historical figure, no matter how distorted, what is he? I start with the parables: one of them is not like the others. The Parable of the Sower is the only one where Jesus explains anything.

    Take the method and apply it recursively, to both parts of the parable. That ought to tell you who “Jesus” is.

      1. Severa, Jiri (2012) [now formatted]. “This Parable Do You Not Understand This Parable ? : Mark’s Recursive Paradoxes as Key to His Gospel”. academia.edu. p. 2.

        In terms of social psychology, Mark was writing a classical cultic material, dense, close to impenetrable, full of mysterious allusions purposely to mislead outsiders.

        The gospel addresses two groups of outsiders separately:

        • one is a group of a different Jesus tradition
             to whom he offers the salvation through Pauline Christ on condition of their converting to the cross.

        • He savages and ridicules the pharisaic Jews of his time
             by having Jesus defy the law and giving either himself or through Jesus, misleading references to the Torah (1:1-3, 2:26, 9:12-13, 10:19, 14:21, 14:49).

  5. Look, it’s obvious at that point that mainstream biblical scholars are way off track. They have completely and willfully failed to understand the Gospels. They intentionally ignore the obvious symbolism and refuse to acknowledge it’s implications. The insistence on seeing the Gospels are records of pre-Pualine facts instead of post-Pauline developments is flatly absurd and unjustifiable. When we look at the early Christian writings we can clearly detect the evolution of ideas and character, yet mainstream scholars refuse to see it because they still insist on jumbling up all these works and making assumptions about various things coming from “oral traditions” and “lost sources”.

    On a side note, I’m studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it is noted that 4Q302 is the only known example of a parable from prior to the Gospel of Mark. Indeed 4Q302 (The Parable of the Bountiful Tree) looks very similar to a Markan parable. What I’m finding is extensive evidence that early Christian writers knew of several texts that are found at Qumran, and possibly evidence that Paul was part of a splinter group from the Qumran community.

    1. I would keep an open mind that the texts at Qumran were not collection of any one particular sect. The Essene hypothesis of the Qumran texts may be as evidence-free as the oral tradition hypothesis behind the gospels.

      (I have been very lost in my own dogmatic views in the past and in hindsight can see how my thinking was totally skewed by groundless assumptions. I don’t know if I could have been accused of being “willfully” or “intentionally” misreading the evidence, though. How does one tell if anyone does?)

    2. I remember but can’t find a discussion that Damascus was another name for Qumran and that Paul’s conversion was on the road to Damascus. Is that an idea that is out there?

      1. That sounds like Eisenman:

        Eisenman, Robert. 2004. “An Esoteric Relation Between Qumran’s ‘New Covenant in the Land of Damascus’ and the New Testament’s ‘Cup of the New Covenant in (His) Blood”?” Revue de Qumrân 21 (3 (83)): 439–56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24640844

        Quick googling brought up http://bhairavah.blogspot.com/2009/11/paul-liar-and-qumran-damascus.html and https://www.wilmingtonfavs.com/qumran-texts/paul-and-the-acts-of-the-apostles.html — but I only skimmed them and cannot comment on anything about those sites apart from the fact that they refer to Eisenman’s suggestions. There may well be more in depth discussion at http://earlywritings.com/forum/

        (Do you have Eisenman’s James the Brother of the Lord?)

        1. Thank you! The reference in bhairavah is the context I remember, saying it couldn’t be the Syrian Damascus based on Saul’s limited jurisdiction.

          I started reading on historical Jesus questions about 1997 so it is quite likely I read Eisenman’s Brother book or Price’s review about that time, but I don’t have a specific memory of it. The Price review has this “Saul is pursuing James and the Jerusalem saints out to Jericho (the vicinity of the Qumran “Damascus”)”. https://depts.drew.edu/jhc/RPeisenman.html

          The bhairavah post says it came from Michael Baigent & Richard Leigh: The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, if I understand correctly. I don’t recall reading that book. Does anyone recommend it or is it out there?

          It sounds like the only thing to link the name Damascus with Qumran is the name of the scroll which is not specifically linked to that geography. If so, it seems it is kinda a fringe theory and not really an important idea I would guess.

          The wilimington post your reference seems to focus on Saul being a Roman agent which would then provide jurisdiction for the Damascus of the conversion story to be the place in Syria.

            1. Thanks for the link. Holy Blood, Holy Grail was a popular book. Didn’t the authors at one point accuse Dan Brown of stealing their ideas? Seems odd if the ideas were historical facts.

          1. If I remember rightly, the equally ‘out there’ Barbara Thiering presented a similar hypothesis to Eisenman. Saul’s “limited jurisdiction”; what would that be then? “Saul” would seem to be part of the later legend; Paul is quite nebulous about how he “oppressed” “the Church” but he does make clear he was unknown to “the churches of Judea” which rather douses the idea he was operating out of Jerusalem before he came to be in Damscus. Ideas about Paul deriving from Acts would seem to be very dubious.

      2. Except that Paul doesn’t say anything about his conversion being related to Damascus. I looked into this myself and didn’t find any real support for it. It just seems to be coincidence or the fact that Damascus was a well known city.

        And as for the Essenes, no, it doesn’t seem that the writings come from an exclusive Essene group living at Qumran.

    1. Just about 3 hours ago I nearly wrote a variant of this request. I am now inspired to write it. Could you please consider writing a book or at least review article on how you think early Christianity in all its variations developed, mentioning major figures and many early documents? You would not of course write a definitive pronouncement of the one and only real history, nor a list of all conceivable possibilities, nor would would you even cite all major references. Your product would be a list and discussion of some of major possibilities towards which you are currently inclined with some major references. You could revise it periodically.

      I suppose (beggars can’t be choosers) a good course outline sort of thing could be useful if you somehow manage to have extra energy and time (HA!) but not quite enough for a book.

      1. My view of all sorts of things is forever changing. The moment I start to write one scene as I see it I would want to change it or mention a dozen other possibilities.

        1. I could see something that was chronological, take a period of time and say what we know was happening (clear evidence), say what there is incomplete or conflicting evidence for, and talk about the major theories for that period as what was going on. That could be updated any time as new information came in. Even a section on the minor theories (dozen other possibilities). A ton of work, I know.

          1. To take a leaf out of Akenson’s Surpassing Wonder where he seeks to explain the origins of Judaism (post 70 CE), I would say there is insufficient information to enable us to propose hypotheses about how Christianity started. (Hypotheses are subject to testing.) Rather, the best we can do is propose models of what might be good explanations. They will always be speculative at some level.

  6. Dear Neil

    What a delight and honor to see some of the wonderful insights from Dr. William B. Smith.
    What a treat! Those who “know” me here are aware of my utmost respect for the incredible scholarship of this great early math and science teacher and scripture scholar without any particular doctorate in NT studies. His published works are incredible. I have many hard to find pieces of his work which by ‘accident” I came across during t he end of my public teaching career around the middle 90’s in an old dusty bookstore. It was called The Birth of the Gospel. I think I have almost memorized that book given its “magic” upon the mind (I have a bent towards Hermetics and finished my own private translation (of the Corpus Hermeticum from the Greek critical editions, Ihope to get it out there, it appears to me Smith shared my own mystical monism and idealization of sacred motifs without having to believe in the dogmas introduced into stories, over and over again throughout literary history.

    I would also recommend Ecce Deus . btw Neil there were no specific book of his that you quoted, or maybe I missed something and supposed to go to Conybeare whom I understand you are quoting…. anyway… there is so much cool stuff you brought to my attention that I missed after reading him dozens of times now…. and his methods and insights have paved the way for me to explore not just the conceptual images of Jesus but my interest….the euhemerization of “the satan” … “devil” as a counterpart to “the Jesus” (a favorite term in the NT and sometimes preceded by a plural definite article “ta” the things…pertaining to the Jesus.” A phrase of dogma used in Acts!!!! Check it out for yourselves and have fun.

    Obviously I am not on board with Smith’s minor twists or turns or errors in places…(who is up to such a task given our own frailties as interpreters.) But if you spend time studing anything about the Christ or Jesus Mythicist stuff …do consider reading lots of Smith…and I am somewhat surprised that R. Carrier has not utilized his stuff as much. I have my own take on the Jesus Myth issue which I have not necessarily expressed clearly here.

    Here’s something I have been doing for a long long time now….Many years ago I came into a hermeneutical approach having linked OT tradition and NT traditions of Israel’s history and a big word came to me….CONTINUITY, yet diversity to put the old Israel to death and make sure his son was dead (at least 3 days) and then raise up “new ” Israel… and that new Israel will reign… though historically that never happened and is still not true based on Jesus failed promises and parables…btw this hermeneutical approach is parabolical..the key is there in MarkG. and so I try on a little hermeneutical substitute.

    Upon reading a story in the Gospels I inject the term “Israel” in the story for the Jesus….and I have been amazed how much one can recognize an OT motif or story …some very explicit and others not so ,…but still there .

    And I started taking all the characters I knew about from the Judaic texts and inserted them into figures and characters and events in the NT…

    You can guess how much fun it has been for me…and I hope maybe for you too… It is better by the way too when you could see them in the respective Hebrew and Greek Languages .You can see connections and continuities, collocations, etc.

    Anyway, thanks so much for this Neil……


  7. Okay Neil,,now I see it! You are using Ecce Deus..cool! You waited to the end to give the footnote so to speak…..fantastic…

    So the source everyone is Ecce Deus.

    You can all get it and your thinking and life will be changed….

    At least I hope 🙂 I am serious. It is so rich, but you must also read The Birth of the Gospel…

    Once I realized that the “son of God ” is essentially Israel ,,I started using that motif to help e understand the testing narrative of Jesus and its precedents or continuity with Israel…It is rich beyond belief…

    Good luck fellow bloggers

  8. Reading the Gospel of Mark, Jesus appears almost ghost like. A shadowy figure. A sort of placeholder in a play. Mark does not give any real description of Jesus – how tall is he? What does he look like? What does he wear? Does he sport a mustache and beard? How’s his hair? What, when and where does he eat? Who makes these arrangements? Who is the chief sponsor of this movement? Who arranges for Jesus’ travels?

    No normal life conversation occurs. Jesus does not face any normal life problems. Instead we come across a barrage of Hebrew theology warped in circular parables much like a sushi wrapped in seaweed. Just as Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel – all their accounts are steeped in theological acrobatics rather than any biographical accounts, so much so that etymology of their names are also pointers to this artificial theological construction(Daniel – meaning God judges. In story – God judges Nebuchadrezzar). Similarly Jesus – Yahweh saves.

    Mark is written like a Greek play with Jesus’ parables presented in form of vignettes. In a play each character is rarely described in detail, unlike a novel which can leisurely describe anything the author takes fancy to.

  9. OP: ““The received notion,” adds Professor Smith, “that in the early Marcan narratives the Jesus is distinctly human, and that the process of deification is fulfilled in John, is precisely the reverse of the truth.”

    Greenly, Edward (1927) [now formatted]. The Historical Reality of Jesus. Rationalist Association of Australia. pp. 22–23.

    • It may conduce to lucidity if the main points of this essay be briefly summarized.
    (09) The style of the Gospel Jesus is not that of a real and living man.

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