Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (2) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

One more instance of Jesus being a re-construction of the great heroes of the Old Testament that Nanine Charbonnel offers us an antitype of Joshua. There’s a catch this time, though. I think the attempt unnecessarily goes too far. At least there is no explanation to justify the claim that the narrative structure of the gospels follows that found in the Book of Joshua. Yes, Jesus begins his ministry like Joshua coming through the Jordan; yes, Jesus does offer a rest as Joshua brought Israel to the promised land; yes, a Lazarus does die in John’s gospel as Eleazar dies in the Book of Joshua. . . but these details do not make a narrative structure. To compare the delivering of the beatitudes (blessings and curses) in the Sermon on the Mount one must strain to match that up with Joshua’s pronouncements of blessings and curses on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. And to call upon the possibility of a Hebrew text behind Mark’s account of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law to note a series of puns related to Joshua’s sun standing still won’t persuade many readers. I can understand why this possibility was mentioned, however, since a primary theme of her thesis is that the gospels were created as Jewish midrash.

If we are looking for a structure that is common to at least the three synoptic gospels we do much better to look at Thomas Brodie’s and Adam Winn’s discussions of the Elijah-Elisha cycle.

More to the point for a comparison with the good shepherd Jesus is NC’s notice of Joshua’s appointment as a shepherd of his people. Thus Numbers 27:15-18

15 Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”

18 And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit . . . 

In keeping with the midrashic composition theme NC draws attention to Joshua being one to “go out” (ἐξελεύσεται in the LXX) before his people and to Matthew’s taking up the same verb (ἐξελθὼν) in 13:1

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake

But here the force of NC’s argument is lost when she says that Matthew is symbolically speaking of the end of time when the message goes to the gentiles. The only way I can see that her argument here can be salvaged is is the sea is the signifier of far-off peoples, of gentiles, as it certainly appears to be in the Gospel of Mark (Kelber’s Mark’s Story of Jesu.- link is to online copy of the book.) NC further extends the “going out” or “exodus” motif to the Gospel of John where Jesus can be said to leave his heavenly body and home to go to his physical people in a physical body.

Another possible bond between Joshua and Jesus is that Jesus professes to keep the least “jot” (yod) of the law while Joshua was faithful in transmitting the law of Moses. (There is more to discuss about the name of the saviour that is promised in a future chapter.)

Other Old Testament types can be found where Jesus is seen to transform them into “fulfilments” of higher ideals as the written words of Yahweh were believed to create fulfilments. But the most explicit figure that Jesus is made to embrace is that of the Messiah.

We’ll try to cover how Jesus embodies the Messianic figure in the next post in this series.

Charbonnel, Nanine. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. Paris: Berg International éditeurs, 2017.


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3 thoughts on “Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (2) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”

  1. Jesus as Joshua appears in the smaller feeding miracle.

    It says that some people have come from afar, and that they had followed the crowd for three days. This alludes for Joshua 9, where the Canainite tribe of the Gibionites made the Israelites believe that they had come from afar insteadd of among the Canaanite population. Thus they were spared from genocide. To fool the Israelites, they showed them their already rotten bread.
    The cheatery was revealead after three days. The Gibionites were not extinguished but just reduced to slaves.

    Likewise, The gentile woman in Mk 7 tricks Jesus into healing her daughter, comparing the gentiles to puppies eating the crumbs of their masters.

  2. This is speculative–and with apologies for being slightly off focus of the topic–but just suppose the “Egyptian wonderworker” of Josephus of the mid-50s–the figure Lena Einhorn argues was Jesus–was considered by contemporaries to be like a Joshua of old, from the coincidence that his name was Jesus, and in order to make that biblical-evoking resonance, was referred to not as “Jesus” but as “Bar-Nun”, “son of Nun”, the biblical Joshua. Or in pronunciation “Bar-Nun” shortened to “Bannu” (“Bannus”)?

    Josephus in Vita explains (no doubt responding to some less favorable version being circulated about him)–as part of his youthful general religious studies survey of all of the sects not any specific one in particular (he explains, lest readers misunderstand)–that he lived in the wilderness under the tutelage of one bather “Bannus”, from Josephus’s ages 16-19, which is 53-56 CE. What arouses the curiosity here is that this appears to correlate with the same time of activity of the Egyptian wonder-worker.

    I think it is very plausible that Josephus, future commander in the Revolt, could have undergone earlier training in some wilderness terrorist training camp (as the Romans would have termed it) in the runup to that Revolt. The “Egyptian” wonder-worker whom Josephus fails to name, and who mobilized for an attack upon the Romans at Jerusalem, was active at the same time as Josephus’s “Bannus”, and it may be that “Bannus” was the “Egyptian” wonder-worker. Although the “Egyptian”‘s forces were attacked and crushed by the Romans, Josephus says the “Egyptian” himself escaped. (One is tempted to add: like the close of a movie in which the leading villain gets away alive, and one knows that is a setup for a sequel.)

    The pivotal significance of this “Egyptian wonder-worker”‘s revolt of the 50’s may be underestimated. I read triple versions of the same “Egyptian”‘s activity, told sequentially by Josephus, as variant versions of the same story, with another, fourth, version in Antiquities as well. Rather than harmonize the versions of the same story editorially into a single narrative, Josephus told all three as if they were distinct repetitions in sequence: War 2.258-260 (= Ant 20.168); 2.261-263 (= Ant 20.169-171), and 2.264 (= Ant. 20.172). These 3 versions are followed in Antiquities by what I read as a still further fourth variant telling of the same “Egyptian”‘s military encounter, though Josephus has situated this one in the time of the next Roman governor (Ant 20.185-188). Rather than repeated replicative crushed-wilderness-anonymous-wonder-worker uprisings under successive Roman governors, read the four as versions of the same thing with one mistaken in date by a little. Then and of interest, War 2.274-276 (= Ant 20.180) makes explicit that these organized recruitment, taxation, and armed training camp activities metastasized into explicit sponsorship and alliances with ruling elites of Judea (compare Josephus).

    That is my conjecture of Jesus = nicknamed after Joshua son of Nun = Bannus making his debut in Judea! Then florid oral history/legendization of such taking over posthumously and becoming literarily transformed into the midrash/historiography of the gospels/Acts. But carry on with analyses of such midrash/historiography being de novo literary creations less genetically derivative from legends of transformative figures of Judea. Although working from analysis of the gospels alone I can see this argued either way, to me Papias and the letters of Paul weigh in favor of oral-history/legendizing genetic-continuity trajectories prior to the gospels’/Acts compositions.

    1. Hi Greg — I found it easier to copy out the references you discuss in table form in order to more clearly visualize your argument. Perhaps others will find this table of a little help, too.

      War Antiquities
      (258) In addition, there was another rebel group with purer hands but wickeder intentions, who did as much damage as the assassins in ruining the well-being of the city. (259) Deceivers and imposters, claiming divine inspiration, they fostered revolutionary changes by inciting the mob to frenzied enthusiasm and by leading them into the wilderness under the belief that God would show them omens of freedom there.
      (260) Thereupon Felix, regarding this as the beginning of a revolt, sent a body of cavalry and heavy-armed infantry and put a large number to the sword.5.
      [167] These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them.
      (261) A greater blow was inflicted on the Jews by the Egyptian false prophet. Arriving in the country, this man, a charlatan who had gained for himself the reputation of a prophet, collected about thirty thousand dupes (262) and led them by a circuitous route from the wilderness to the rise called the Mount of Olives. From there he was ready to force an entry into Jerusalem, and after overpowering the Roman garrison, to assume control of the people, employing his fellow raiders as his bodyguard. (263) However, Felix anticipated his attempt by meeting him with the Roman heavy infantry, the whole population rallying to his defense. The outcome of the ensuing clash was that the Egyptian fled with a handful of men, while most of his followers were killed or captured. The remainder dispersed and stole away stealthily to their respective homes. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more.
      (264) No sooner had these troubles died down than the inflammation, as in a sick man’s body, broke out again in another quarter. The impostors and brigands, banding together, incited many to revolt, exhorting them to assert their independence. They threatened to kill any who submitted willingly to Roman domination and to suppress all those who would accept servitude voluntarily. (265) Then, deployed in gangs throughout the country, they looted the houses of the nobles and killed their owners. They set villages on fire, so that all Judaea felt the effect of their frenzy and day by day the fighting blazed more fiercely. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.
      “the fourth variant”

      [185] Upon Festus’s coming into Judea, it happened that Judea was afflicted by the robbers, while all the villages were set on fire, and plundered by them. And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles,] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon the villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire. So Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent destroyed both him that had deluded them, and those that were his followers also.

      (274) Now, too, the audacity of the revolutionaries in Jerusalem was stimulated. Its leaders bribed Albinus to shut his eyes to their seditious activities, while any of the common people who were not satisfied with peace and quiet joined forces with the procurator’s associates.

      (275) Every ruffian surrounded by his own gang stood out from his followers like a brigand-chief or tyrant, using his bodyguard to rob peaceful citizens. (276) The result was that the victims of robbery kept wrongs, of which they ought to have complained, to themselves, while those who escaped injury, through fear of the same fate, cringed to wretches who deserved punishment. In short, none could now speak freely, and tyranny reigned everywhere; from then on the seeds of the impending fall were sown in the city.

      [179] About this time king Agrippa gave the high priesthood to Ismael, who was the son of Fabi. And now arose a sedition between the high priests and the principal men of the multitude of Jerusalem; each of which got them a company of the boldest sort of men, and of those that loved innovations about them, and became leaders to them; and when they struggled together, they did it by casting reproachful words against one another, and by throwing stones also. And there was nobody to reprove them; but these disorders were done after a licentious manner in the city, as if it had no government over it. And such was the impudence and boldness that had seized on the high priests, that they had the hardiness to send their servants into the threshing-floors, to take away those tithes that were due to the priests, insomuch that it so fell out that the poorest sort of the priests died for want. To this degree did the violence of the seditious prevail over all right and justice.

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