Celestial or Earthly Christ Event? Why So Much Confusion About Paul?

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by Neil Godfrey

Arthur Droge

Arthur Droge has made available on his academia.edu page an article in which he presents

  • a strong case for that “rulers of this age … crucified the Lord of Glory” passage in 1 Corinthians not being part of the original letter
  • reasons to think the passage was added to the letter around 140 CE
  • evidence for a wide variety of early Christian views about the crucifixion (some had it on earth, some in the firmament, with and without suffering…)
  • implications of the above that point to Paul’s letters evolving through various hands over time and no more being penned by “Paul” than any of the surviving letters, acts, gospels and apocalypses bearing the names of Peter, James, John, Thomas, Barnabas, Mark, Matthew, Luke, etc were genuinely penned by those figures.

The article is Whodunnit? Paul’s Peculiar Passion and Its Implications. The link is to the article on academia.edu.

I will certainly have to write out the key points of Droge’s article and add it to my archived series “Rulers of this Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 but till then I leave the above link for interested readers to check out the full 22-page article for themselves.

Some interesting excerpts.

What is an Interpolation?

By interpolation I simply mean a retrospective change in an older text, usually introduced with the intention of “clarifying” or “improving” it, or bringing out what was thought to be its “real” meaning. The change may have taken place when a work was copied and perhaps re-edited at some point after its original composition. That is to say, interpolations are an all-too-common feature of texts that have come down through a succession of manuscripts or handwritten copies. While the identification of interpolations is unremarkable in other disciplines, whose canons likewise derive from manuscripts, it is looked down upon by New Testament scholars. (p. 6)

Indeed. See, for example, a list of 30 ancient texts cited to justify the term “a culture of interpolations” see A Case for Interpolation Does NOT Rely On Manuscript Evidence. See also my 2009 post Forgery in the Ancient World for another list of mostly classical texts. Recall, further, most recently Greg Doudna’s proposal that the John the Baptist passage in Josephus is a “misplaced” passage — another type of “interpolation”.

Droge offers two criteria for identifying interpolations:

  1. significant differences in language, style, and subject matter.
  2. the removal of the suspect passage has to make the resultant rejoining of the surrounding material more cogent, smoother….

On the basis of those criteria Droge demonstrates a very strong likelihood of the “rulers of this age” being an interpolation.

No consensus in early Christian texts about who crucified Jesus, or about when, where, how, or why

For even a casual sampling of texts from the Christian archive makes it patently clear that there was no consensus about who crucified Jesus, or about when, where, how, or why Jesus was crucified. Indeed, as we shall see, there was not even a consensus about whether Jesus was crucified. Each of these questions was a point of conflict and contestation for centuries before the Christians finally managed to get their story (more or less) straight. (p. 12)

Ante Pacem / Snyder

I confess I was somewhat thrilled to see Droge make the use of some of the same archaeological evidence that has influenced my own thinking: the crucifixion of Jesus was not the primary focus of early Christian belief if one turns to early sarcophagi and catacomb art. Jesus is more likely to be depicted as a youth, a good shepherd, a healer than crucified. Droge adds the significant point:

The silence of the archaeological record in this case is a stark warning about extrapolating from texts ideas widely shared by the rank and file, or by the socalled “communities” supposedly lurking behind the texts we read and to which they provide access. (p. 12)

Droge directs readers to Stowers and Rüpke. I’ll quote a little from each:

The pervasive assumption that all Christian literature and history in the first one hundred years or so sprang from and mirrored communities inhibits historical explanation by social and psychological theory that is normal for the rest of the academy. A community in this sense is a highly coherent social formation with commonality in thought and practice. The idea that the Christian movement began with these communities derives from Christianity’s own myth of origins, but has been taken as historical reality. The myth can be traced to Paul, Acts and Eusebius. (Stowers, 238)


If the authentic letters [of Paul] (which might themselves be the result of later redactional combinations) are seen as an example of the formation of a network among like-minded persons in Jewish diaspora communities in Asia Minor and the Greek mainland, we could expect hundreds of letters – and we cannot exclude that they were in existence. The published corpus, however, is characterised not by the documentation of a network, but by a pseudepigraphical supplementation, which partially even theologically reflected on pseudepigraphy.  The different agents of this continuation had heterogeneous interests. They were engaged in the prolongation of Paul and contested others’ interpretations; they venerated and instrumentalised Paul. These conflicting views were certainly connected to the interest in and critique of the specific Pauline practices and beliefs which we find even more prominently outside of the corpus, in Lukan Acts for instance. All this indicates that we are not dealing with archives of communities and local identities, but with professional exegesis and philosophical schools (and with Marcion, even historical research). (Rüpke, 180)

Now that makes a lot of sense when we recall Justin Martyr’s identification of himself as a philosopher and recall Abraham Malherbe’s demonstrations that the Pauline writings suggest we are closer to the mark when we compare early Christian thought and propagation with the philosophical schools of the day than with “mystery cults”.

Droge brings the Ascension of Isaiah into the discussion and reaffirms the view that the section on the birth, miracles and crucifixion of Jesus is a later addition and that the original text depicted a crucifixion in the Firmament. We recall Earl Doherty’s and Richard Carrier’s works. I have lately gone a bit back and forth on that question so I am willing to resume a back seat for a while and watch and learn with more reading and reflection. A significant difference, however, is that Doge insists on the Ascension of Isaiah being a post-Pauline second-century work whereas Doherty was prepared to lean towards those who dated it as early as the late first century. Droge’s point is that an Ascension of Isaiah scenario of Rulers of this Age crucifying Jesus points to the Pauline passage being added in the second century.

The idea that Jesus did not actually die on the cross is traced from a very literal reading of the Gospel of Mark (it was Simon of Cyrene who was crucified), the related view of Basilides in the second century, through the Second Treatise of the Great Seth and Apocalypse of Peter. Ignatius and Justin further indirectly hint at this rival belief. The spiritual dimension of the event is presumably a reaction to a narrative set in the mundane realm.

But if that’s the case, why? We don’t normally expect sectarian branches to rewrite a historical tradition as having happened in the heavens. But it does make sense if that mundane narrative involving Galilee, Pilate, a lynch mob of Jews, etc. was built from a “midrashic” reading of Hebrew Scriptures. If so, there was room for others to disagree and propose other interpretations of those scriptures. Hence I found most intriguing Droge’s pointing out the way gnostic myths were derived from particular readings of Psalms. Psalm 2 has God laughing at rulers thinking they can defy God and his anointed. Enter the gnostic accounts of Jesus laughing at those who are thinking they are crucifying him on the cross. Similarly for the myth of descent and ascent through the heavens: Psalm 24 speaks of the King of Glory which is close to the Ascension’s Lord of Glory, and it also speaks of him progressing through “gates”.

But why?

Why were those verses about spirit beings crucifying Christ added? Best for you to read Droge’s article. Meanwhile, no, Droge does not suggest they were polemical or deviously attempting to undermine the original views of Paul. He sees the addition of the passage more as a commentary.

The more interesting and important consequence is the recognition that our passage was a second-century gnostic attempt to ventriloquize Paul, to make him say what he should have said – indeed, must have said – and to do so in a fashion not dissimilar to the way in which the modern guild of scholars continues to carry on the time-honored task of Pauline commentary.

Claude Lévi-Strauss is worth recalling at this point:

[A] myth is made up of all its variants, [therefore] structural analysis should take all of them into account. . . . . There is no one true version of which all the others are but copies or distortions. Every version belongs to the myth. (pp 435f)

Commentaries as expansions and explanations become another version of the myth. Droge points the finger at the Valentinian scholars of the second century,

for whom Paul’s letters were a major focus of their commentarial endeavors, and who succeeded in creating a Paul in their own image, and then esteemed him as the chief architect of their mythmaking. Our passage is one, very small, but precious, piece of that enterprise, which has managed, purely by chance, to survive as a page in the archive or dossier that only later would be called “First Corinthians.”

How the sausage is made

So how did the letter-making sausage machine work, according to Droge?

By recognizing that our passage is an interpolation of the second century, we can see that individual letters were still under construction well into that century, and we can begin to discern some of the ways in which that building process worked. Already at a pre-collection stage, Paul’s “letters” were far from static or inert data, moving through time under the guardianship of vigilant Christian scribes. Rather, the materials out of which individual letters would be constituted were still in flux, and provided occasions for innovative and improvisational interventions from a variety of sources, with a variety of interests, and in a variety of forms (e.g., emendations, deletions, glosses, interpolations, commentary, short narratives, and so on). As I have tried to suggest, it would be better to think of “First Corinthians” at the pre-collection stage as an active site or open file, more along the lines of an archive or dossier, and certainly not a unified, much less actual, letter. So conceived, the process that yielded the letter known as “First Corinthinas,” as well as the collection known as the corpus paulinum, would be analogous to the process of the composition of the gospels. In other words, at some point in the second century materials of heterogeneous origin, date, and provenance began to be fashioned into a loose epistolary form and attributed to a figure from the first century. (21f)

Droge, Arthur. “‘Whodunnit? Paul’s Peculiar Passion and Its Implications.’” Accessed May 10, 2021. https://www.academia.edu/43327375/_Whodunnit_Paul_s_Peculiar_Passion_and_Its_Implications_.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “The Structural Study of Myth.” The Journal of American Folklore 68, no. 270 (1955): 428–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/536768.

Rüpke, Jörg. “The Role of Texts in Processes of Religious Grouping during the Principate.” Religion in the Roman Empire 2, no. 2 (2016): 170. https://doi.org/10.1628/219944616X14655421286059.

Stowers, Stanley. “The Concept of ‘Community’ and the History of Early Christianity.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 23, no. 3 (2011): 238–56. https://doi.org/10.1163/157006811X608377.

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Neil Godfrey

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12 thoughts on “Celestial or Earthly Christ Event? Why So Much Confusion About Paul?”

  1. Thanks Neil for this post.

    Interesting, apart the ‘outer space coming out’ of prof Droge, is the following point:

    Insofar as this myth is conceived of as a cosmic, rather than historical, drama, it was probably deployed to counter the reality of its earthly or historical version, namely, the story of Christ’s physical passion. We see this clearly at Ascen. Isa. 9:13, where the malevolent powers of the Firmament “think that he is flesh and a man.”

    From the POV of the original author of the Ascension of Isaiah, then, the historicist view of Jesus was the fruit of a misunderstanding by outsiders, and the latter included the same people who interpreted the crucifixion as ‘a scandal’ or ‘a folly’. Hence, according to that author, Paul was embarrassed in 1 Corinthians 1:23 not by a Roman crucifixion, but by the fact that the crucifixion was interpreted wrongly as a Roman (earthly) crucifixion.

  2. I have just become familiar with the text “Joseph and Asenath”. I know it’s controversial, but it is clearly inspired from a Christian milieu. There are also major pagan elements, treating Joseph as an avatar of Helios.

    Sorry to go way out into left field but I have no other way to explain this.

    I think Joseph and Asenath is quite possibly a back handed telling of a concealed and unredacted Christian doctrine. The story is about Christ marrying Mary, which is esoterically conceived as an eschatological event. Exoterically, it is a story of Pharoah’s son and Joseph competing for the love of Asenath, daughter of Pharoah’s high priest, and how the sons of Israel helped Joseph defeate Pharoah’s son and obtain his bride. The confusion is tied to a later mangling of history that resulted in our gospel narrative. Here’s what I think is the truth: “Christ”, or Joseph, in this sense is King Bazeus (Zamaris or Zimra of Trachonitis) of Adiabene, and Pharoah is Herod. Mary, or Asenath, is Mariamne Boethus, so her father is properly Pharoah’s high priest.

    When Phraates II conquered at Ecbatana in 129BC, defeating Sidetes, the captured son Seleucus was greatly honored. The timing is right for Seleucus to have been Abdissares, the first king of Adiabene. According to Assyriologists, multiple cities in Assyria at this time began to embrace the Assyrian identity and even Asshur was rebuilt. There is a curious disinterest by Parthia in ruling this area. I believe, by the region’s contemporary religious context, and archeology, that this Assyria Nova worshipped the Sun God, and its idols were the celestial bodies. This is present in Asenath. Abdissares corresponds to Abdu, king of Edessa. I believe that “Osrhoene” meant “Assyria” and that there was no kingdom of Oshroene as such until Edessa split off around 100AD.

    If you track down the Edessa king’s list, you get a direct correspondence to the wars of Parthia, Armenia, Rome and Seleucid Syria as they march into and out of Northern Mesopotamia. I believe that Abdissares had himself styled as Assyria’s god-king, with the title “Ma’nu”. I also believe that the Seleucid Philip I Epiphanes was not a son of Grypus, but of Abdissares (Seleucus). This is why he was not very accepted at Antioch. Thus, Philip survives as Ptolemy Menneus (Ma’nu). After Pompey’s defeat of Tigranes, Ma’nu II (Philip) is restored to the throne of Osrhoene until Pacorus invades and is responsible for killing Ptolemy Menneus (and is officially recognized in the Edessan kings list).

    Ptolemy married a Hasmonean princess, as did – allegedly – his son Philippion (who must be Philip II).

    Thus, Zamaris (Bazeus) is a Jewish son or grandson of Ptolemy Menneus – Hasmonean pedigree, Seleucid pedigree, and rights to a vague but impressive kingdom which includes Adiabene but perhaps more.

    Zamaris’s lands in Syria/Galilee correspond to a region of Amorite peoples who were forcibly converted to Judaism a generation earlier. There is no doubt in my mind that they are the source of the odd solar/astrological experimentation in Judaism and maybe even the doctrines expressed in the Dead Sea Scroll community, as well as the Books of Enoch.

    In Asenath, Pharoah’s son fights Joseph for the hand of Asenath. There’s a large section where Asenath seeks forgiveness, and through God’s blessing – given through Joseph whom she recognizes as God’s Son – Asenath is purified and made a perpetual virgin. Here’s a fascinating look at the virginity doctrine of Mary. That through grace effected by God’s son, she becomes a virgin again, not once, but in perpetuity. Asenath has her tower, so this is a fitting explanation for the “Magdalene” title, and we can see the echoes with Rapunzel.

    In the story, Pharoah’s son is defeated, Joseph and Asenath marry, he rules, then rule is conceded to Pharoah’s grandson.

    The presence of the temple to Helios in Baalbek, and Ptolemy Menneus’s claims to the title of High Priest, indicate that perhaps this religion of Assyria Nova is penetrating into the regions of Mount Lebanon. It also identifies Joseph and Asenath’s incarnation of the divine bride with this style of belief.

    Around the year 0, Herod Archelaeus marries an unknown “Mariamne”, but casts her aside, only for a tax revolt which he fails to manage lead Rome to remove him and rule Judea directly.

    It could be that Mariamne is the same as Mariamne Boethus, Archeleus is “Pharoah’s Son”, and that Zamaris is leading the fight to preserve the tax-free status of his domain (now apparently given to Philip the Tetrach as suzerain), as well as a battle to restore Mariamne’s honor. This parallels Aretas fighting Antipas due to Phasaelis.

    In this sense, Mariamne becomes a “Helen of Jerusalem”. And so obviously she is Helena of Adiabene. Zamaris the “Jew” (not by religion) is called Judas of Gamala.

    Armenian and Syrian history both have “Abgar” of Edessa moving into Edessa (Urhay) from Nisibis in around 25AD for the purpose of making war, including antagonism with Philip and Antipas. This Abgar dies in 31. Josephus has Asineus and Anileus the Jews of Nisibis and Neerda rise up, and at almost precisely 31 (due to the changing of the King of Armenia) “a certain Parthian general” whose wife is of renowned beauty and coveted, is killed in battle.

    The wife, another allegorical Helen, worships the Eastern idols in a Jewish household. The brothers are defeated, but Nisibis and Neerda remain Jewish strongholds with severe antagonism against Jews in the region.

    Izates II rules, having converted to Judaism and discovering that his mother Helena has also just converted (perhaps while in the household of Asineus?). He helps Artabanus around 37 and has Nisibis restored to his kingdom (the Jewish uprising being perhaps why it was lost to Osrhoene, since Izates already controlled Corduene, and now Izates is Jewish). Then, the “King of Arabs” Abia is set to overthrow Izates. In context, this must be Sampsiceramus II, who dies in 42. Josephus has Izates living into the 50s, but this could be a redaction of history due to the story’s subject being a vague miracle. The Edessan king’s list has Izates dying in 45 due to a 14 year reign.

    Theudas also dies in 45.

    Judas the Galilean’s family includes the sons James and Simon.

    Jesus’s traditional family is: Jesus, James, Simon, Jude (Thaddeus, maybe Thomas), Joses

    Zamaris’s family is: son Jacimus, grandson Philip (another Philip).

    If Jesus’s traditional family is Judas of Gamala’s, then there is no identified historical Jesus – other than Theudas (making Theudas the historical person identified as the earthly Jesus).

    Theudas is clearly analogous to John the Baptist, and if he is a forerunner of a greater prophet, it must be James who was probably seen as a Davidic messiah during the cementing of the Dead Sea Scrolls community beliefs from 45-65.

    Going back to the beginning, Bazeus’s death in 31 corresponds to the timing of Izates/Helena’s conversion to Judaism by Ananus. It is followed by a hypothetical Christian letter to Adiabene. And then you have Paul’s one meaningful historical moment – Aretas’s siege of Damascus in which Ananus nurses Paul back to life.

    So, like Joseph in Joseph and Asenath, Bazeus is upheld as an incarnation of the Assyrian sun god. Jewish ethnically. He dies, and his wife is captured and raped in a traumatic episode. Ananus actively seeks converting this family to contemporary Judaism. Ascension of Isaiah portrays a Babylonian style mortal-incarnation-rising in a way that parallel’s Paul’s visions. Paul contemporaneously has his vision of Christ.

    This is Ananus attempting to reframe the Assyrian sun god – of whom Bazeus as a “Ma’nu” is an avatar – as an incarnation of Logos, in an attempt to Judaize the nascent Assyrian Great Awakening – since so many Jews and even “lost tribe” Israelites live in that region. It is also particularly time appropriate since in spite of an Assyrian awakening, there is in the Eastern branch of the Euphrates a Jewish political awakening at this exact moment.

    There could have been a literal letter with this subject to Adiabene. And Paul’s visions would parallel that subject. Which he, Paul (likely the son of Ananus, Ananus II or Paulos – junior), is now spreading to the Philonic clubs in Asia. Greco-Jewish philosophy clubs. Not discounting the role of psychedelic substances in the practices of the Theraputae.

    There is a Judas of Galilee who hails from Sepphoris, not Gamala, who caused trouble in 4BC not 6AD. The son of Hezekiah, and possibly ancestor of some of the zealots (perhaps Menahem or John of Ghiscala). It could be that these styled themselves a pure, Davidic messiahs.

    In reaction, the Judaized Assyrians of Bazeus’s family would cast their new Christ king (ascended and crucified in heaven) in a Davidic framework. Where Bazeus/Judas of Gamala who rules in heaven is followed by an earthly Davidic conqueror shortly after his ascension. This being the Dead Sea Scrolls doctrine.

    So Theudas would be Izates II, his march to Jordan an attempt at ritual purity preceding a conquest, following his defeat of Sampsiceramus. More plausible if he is heavily partaking of psychedelic substances. That baptism event being a “War Scroll” ritual cleansing prior to an eschatological event.

    Having failed, the hope is cast to James, who is ruler of Bathyra, or else military captain of Trachonitis and Batanea. Agrippa being “Pharoah’s Grandson” who rules after Joseph’s death in that same region.

    Judas and James as the first and second comings of messiah, Theudas cast as a forerunner to James. This identifies Thaddeus/Thomas as Monobazus II, who died in 65 which is the traditional death date of Thaddeus. Monobazus II could plausibly have visited the Mauryan kingdom and certain did participate in a campaign in Armenia. Not to mention the presence of Thaddeus in Edessa.

    Later, the Flavian household – which has conspired with the philosophical communities that corresponded with Paul, as well as the Herodians – casts Titus as the second coming of the messiah. I believe that this is when Theudas is inserted instead of Bazeus into the first coming of messiah within the Dead Sea Scrolls framework. The documents of the Clementine Christians being completely lost amid the rise of Gnosticism (following Hadrian’s final defeat of Jewish messianism – 70-136AD messianism being completely forgotten to history in its exact details), until Marcion in Pontus rediscovers them. Leading, finally, to the emergence of a recognizable Christianity as late as around 170AD. This early, original movement of recognizable Christians is what is mistakenly thought of as the “Johannine” community. John being the pure expression of recognizable Christianity, and Mark for example being misinterpreted. Where Mark was originally written for literary purposes without reconizable Christianity in mind.

    So Theudas is made into the Logos-incarnation heavenly high priest and king which Assyrian Bazeus had inhabited, but the second coming being Titus is discarded. This leads to a more cogent, historical “Jesus of Nazareth”. The Theudas/James role is preserved by inventing a fabricated John the Baptist to the new Jesus. We also have the post Bar Kokhba, post Akiva redaction of rabbinical Judaism, and a context for Judaism in 150-170AD that did NOT exist in 30AD. I would say Judaism and Christianity are contemporaneous and defined off of each other to an extent. It astonishes me the people whom the Zionists claim as heroes among frankly heretical, barely Jewish radicals of the first century. Well, because they were all Jewish, because Judaism doesn’t begin until around 150AD, so everything before that is slightly immaterial.

    Gnosticism being the primary genealogical consequence of the historical theological movement behind Christianity. It being a Hellenized interpretation of a peculiar Egyptian/Syrian theology that collided in the Judaized Amorite community surrounding Bathyra. Hadrian having totally crushed the violent or revolutionary branches of the theology.

    Theudas gets the central role because he kick starts the movement during his abortive, spiritual revolt, even though James temporarily takes it places, and even though the original subject is a departed king.

    Joseph and Asenath is a Judaized interpretation of an Assyrian mystery, and the same blend is seen in Ascension of Isaiah and so Paul’s Christ must be linked to it at a well.

    Simon is Simon the Zealot. Simon Cantheras is Simon Cephas/Peter. Mary the Virgin is actually Mary Magdelene, who is Mariamne Boethus. Paul’s Christ, the original Christ, was Bazeus – who is analogized as Joseph, obviously becoming Mary’s husband. Theudas is later transposed into the Christ role, and he is son of Mary and Joseph. So Christ marries Mary Magdelene, but the later Christ is Mary’s son (which is how Mary of Bethany becomes Mary Magdelene).

    Lazarus, Martha and Mary of Bethany are Simon Cantheras’ children. Mary of Bethany is mistaken as Mary Magdelene. She is the right age to marry John Zebedee. Peter (Simon Cantheras) is jealous that Jesus (Theudas perhaps) prefers Mary to him. And John is the beloved disciple. The family dynamic is clear. Mary and John are married, and draw too much attention from Theudas, upsetting Mary’s father. The timing and setting would be just after Bazeus’s death, perhaps the first time a converted Izates and Helena are present among their Jewish relations. If Mary and John are the bride and bridegroom of Cana (in this scenario, Cana would be Anjar in Lebanon), then perhaps Izates is gaining answers to Jewish theological questions from them, while sharing some of his Assyrian esoterica, and the more educated Cantheras feels upstaged, whereas Izates is merely honoring the objects of the occasion.

    Not that I want to insist too strongly on that identification. It’s only representative of how one set of facts can become a completely different narrative. In the memory of the community, the events at this wedding would have been significant enough to remember. Izates would not normally be present in the region, and Herodians also may have attended (Zebedee’s wife Salome is the daughter of Herodias and Herod II). The context changed later to serve a different agenda.

    As outlandish as this all might sound, regardless, the only stretch of credulity given the facts is the age of Mariamne.

    This interpretation of Joseph and Asenath works better if Mariamne Boethus was a bit younger, and married Herod as a mere child.

    This would require Herod II to be from another mother. Speculatively, to explain Josephus’s portrayal of events, Herod II is the first son (Herod, lost to history) of Cleopatra of Jerusalem. This is meaningfully explained if Cleopatra is a sister of Simon Boethus (and Bazeus). Thus, Herod II, Simon Boethus and Mariamne are relations. And Herod is made Mariamne’s son to preserve Cleopatra’s reputation for the sake of Philip (who would have avoided the family scandal due to studying in Rome at the time).

    The connection, of course, is that Ma’nu III Saflul is the same as Tiridates II who is responsible for Rome and Parthia’s peace. Ideally, Ma’nu III is Philip II, and probably Bazeus is his son. Simon Boethus would either be his or Ptolemy’s son, and Cleopatra of Jerusalem is likely Ma’nu III’s sister (their brother, Lysanias). This also requires a stretch since Josephus says Philippion was killed. However, the context is so strong that it seems unlikely. Perhaps Philippion was exiled from Chalcis to the East, which explain his emergence there as Tiridates II after the defeat of Pacorus.

    Regardless, apologies again for a long comment. The context has to be given since so much of this is unaddressed or unnoticed in history.

    The summary is that Paul’s celestial Christ, which is clearly stylistically Babylonian, is cast in a Jewish light. Joseph and Asenath is a remarkable document which represents a nexus between Babylonian theology, Jewish forms, and Christian flavored concepts. This nexus exists, in real history among real people, in the Adiabenian influence on first century Judaism seen among the Bathyran Jews and in Izates and Helena’s conversion. The role of Ananus in that conversion strongly connects this nexus to Paul.

    1. This comment is hardly related to the post and we do get too many comments proposing alternative theories instead of addressing the post itself. But what I think you are noticing here are combinations of certain literary tropes and thinking they must be related in the two narratives. But in the absence of a clear statement or unambiguous indication that an author is making such a deliberate parallel we have no justifiable basis for our view that one story is a disguised form of the other. Our judgement is entirely subjective and could in theory be applied to other stories sharing the same literary tropes.

  3. The more I think about it, the more it becomes obvious that currently we have no solid conclusion whatsoever to draw about early christianities and what they believe, or whether there was some type of initial sect at the bottom of it all. Not historicism, not mythicism. Frank Zindler had a very good insight when he suggested that scholars should create a database of all our ancient texts. It would also be a good idea for scholars to take the approach of setting aside their preconceptions and start from scratch in creating a portrait of how this religion emerged.

    1. If anything is at the bottom of it all it is raw backstabbing politics of the banana republic or palace coup variety. There are some interesting suppositions in this fellow’s text: https://1lib.us/book/1191063/76ae70 Laid out in a purely political context some of it could be plausible. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

      1. I’ve had a closer look at that book, Wayne. Please read my earlier link comparing biblical historians negatively with “silly detectives”. The author treats the genealogy in Luke as historical when in fact we have no reason whatever to do so and instead have good reasons to believe it is entirely fictitious. The same author even treats other parts of the same gospel as fictitious so we are left thinking that he is playing a game of picking out pieces that will make a good story and declaring them to be historical while discarding the rest. There is no legitimacy to such an approach.

        Next, he takes names in the genealogy and imputes to them significances that cannot be justified at all. Example, the name “melchi” meaning king becomes a real king — the name is simply re-read not as a name but as a title. Then he reads another name, “levi”, as a reason to think that the entire line of Jesus is from the tribe of Levi. That conclusion again has no justification at all. If Levi is listed as a name then it is a name. We cannot leap from that name to think that any other name in that genealogy belonged to the tribe of Levi. That makes no sense logically.

        And those are just two points at the beginning of the book’s discussion. The link with Jannaeus of the Maccabees is likewise entirely gratuitous.

        With such errors like those we must set aside the book as having any value as a reconstruction of history. One thing I learned from Earl Doherty some years ago was the importance of being very alert to logical fallacies when reading any account of Christian origins. Even some of the most reputable names in biblical studies make logical howlers sometimes and those howlers, those same fallacies, are too often picked up and re-worked by amateurs — as we see in the case of this book.

        Again — take a look at my post about “making detectives look silly”.

  4. Neil, you write:
    But it does make sense if that mundane narrative involving Galilee, Pilate, a lynch mob of Jews, etc. was built from a “midrashic” reading of Hebrew Scriptures.

    Note that a great past Mythicist observed that:

    …the location of the bulk of the narrative part of the synoptic gospels in Galilee raises for the myth theorist the question, Why that location, when there was no subsisting Galilean Church?
    (J. M. Robertson, Jesus and Judas, p. 206)

    Really, while the birth in Galilee is obviously 100% midrash, not so the preaching in Galilee. To my knowledge, there is no midrashical source able to explain it.

    1. Matthew 4:12-17, in accounting for the scene of Jesus’ active ministry, quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. That looks like a perfectly cogent explanation to me. Matthew effectively says that the scene of Jesus’ ministry was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ preaching the Kingdom of God in Galilee was the fulfilment of the prophecy.

      1. Indeed, that so familiar passage had escaped my attention. And apparently also of Robertson, which wrote:

        The one clear opening in the documents for a theory of personal emergence occurs in respect of a circumstance never critically faced by the biographical school, namely, the Galilean background.
        In the gospels that background is built up to no
        purpose. The Christ emerges, operates, and in a manner triumphs in Galilee; then fails and leaves it to die at Jerusalem ; where, nevertheless, he is made to speak of returning to the Galilean scene. Yet not even is the supernatural machinery used to make him do so ; and there is finally no reason for believing that there was ever any Galilean “Christianity” at all. This is expressly admitted
        by the defence. Here then is a ground for surmising that “ something ” quite alien to the gospel story had happened in Galilee which motived the gospel parade of that locality; and a tentative hypothesis in that regard is submitted in the Epilogue to the present work. But, once for all, this is no fulfilment of the assumption of a supernormal Personality answering to the gospel Jesus. That, we shall see, remains a fiction, a Myth.
        (ibid. p. 69)

  5. Thanks Neil. Another stimulating post and very important considering the centrality of the celestial concepts to Messrs Doherty and Carrier.
    The question I keep asking myself about what Mr Droge calls the “hotchpotch” in 1 Corinthians is why we have no evidence of the constituent scraps circulating separately. Droge does refer to 1 Clement using a a version of 1 Corinthians without the celestial passage, but surely one would expect to find the various bits of this hotchpotch popping up in other documents in other contexts? I understand that the stock answer is that the fourth century censorship was so thorough that everything except the approved text was wiped out, and of course some textual variants have come down to us. One could play the “oral traditions” Get-Out-Of-Jail card, but if everything had been oral up to the writing of 1 Corinthians, wouldn’t the author have made a better job of constructing a coherent letter?

    1. When it comes to the gospels we do see that early versions have survived along with later rewritings and “corrections” of those earlier efforts — Mark, Matthew, Luke, …. through to extra-canonical gospels, too.

      The epistle to the Romans appears to some of us as a revision and restyling of the epistle to the Galatians. It’s not quite what you are saying we should expect, but I mention it fwiw.

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