What’s a lonely Jesus to do?

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by Neil Godfrey

Commissioning of the Twelve – Wikipedia

Writing a story about Jesus was not always easy. There was very little by way of sources to help out. Imagination was all too often called for. Take the time when Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to preach in the surrounding towns, for example. What were they going to preach, exactly? They did not yet know that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. So they couldn’t preach that message. Simply trying to say that the “kingdom of God” was “coming soon” must have seemed a bit flat in the absence of new material of immediate relevance to people’s lives to flesh out that message. But miracles. Now they could be said to heal the sick and cast out demons. But that’s not really preaching, is it.

But stop and ask what Jesus was doing while his disciples were out “on preaching tour”. The towns were hosting his disciples. So where did Jesus go now that he was on his own? Did he take a break and go fishing? That would soon lose its appeal to one who had the power to bring fish up by the hundreds at a mere thought.

More to the point, how did the author of the first gospel narrative about Jesus fill in this gap? He had sent Jesus’ companions away after having instructed them in matters of sandals and staves and different household responses and now he was left with Jesus standing on his own. Unless our author could think of different subplot adventures for the various disciples “preaching” some vague message in the towns he had to do something to occupy Jesus for the readers.

But no, since nothing came to mind, our author hit on another solution. The old distraction technique. Now was the ideal time to bring in that delicious little story of how John the Baptist lost his head. He had nowhere else to use it in a story of Jesus but now was the ideal moment. The story of a birthday banquet and a dancing daughter could be colourfully filled out to create a nice interlude for the readers to forget about those preaching disciples and the lost and lonely Jesus for a while.

After that near-chapter length story it was finally appropriate to bring back the disciples from their tour. At least in the readers’ minds time had gone by and they did not have to be faced with a return the very next verse or two after they were sent out.

The introduction and placement of the John the Baptist scenario at that point, between Jesus sending out the twelve and their return, functions as a literary salve. A nice curtain interlude from the main plot to allow time to pass off-stage.

Later, the author of the Gospel we identify with Matthew, added many more lurid details to Jesus’ instructions for the disciples. Beware, he gloomily warned, of wolves. You are going out to face life-threatening dangers. You will be hauled before magistrates and called upon to answer for your faith. (Faith? They did not yet even know Jesus was Christ!) So in addition to the disciples not having any particular message to preach, those in Matthew were to face dangers that not even Jesus had faced up to that point. No, Matthew was writing from a distance long after the events he narrates. He is writing from the perspective of his own time possibly, I think, quite some decades later. He was retroverting experiences of his own day back into the days of Jesus and his twelve disciples.

Such are some of the little glimpses of how the gospels must have been put together that arise from a thoughtful reading. Thanks in particular, though not exclusively, to the works of Bruno Bauer who made such comments around 170 years ago.

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Neil Godfrey

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19 thoughts on “What’s a lonely Jesus to do?”

  1. I think Bauer has it backward: Mark didn’t need to give Jesus something to do while the disciples were out of town evangelizing; rather, the evangelizing of the Twelve disciples and the number Twelve are a decades-later creation of editor(s) to enhance the authority of the Twelve.

    The text Bauer analyzed has been edited. Here’s my take on the action of Mark’s original play, all of which is stageable, simple, and advances the story: Jesus doesn’t send the Twelve out, because the Twelve don’t exist yet. There is only the Three (Peter, James, John). Jesus does instruct them on how to exorcise Satanic spirits and on visitors’ etiquette (Mark 6:7-11), as is appropriate for their status as novice disciples. (This action of trust by Jesus advances the story because it will make their later misunderstandings and abandonment more poignant.) Jesus and the Three remain in the background onstage while JBap’s death is reported by a messenger. AND (very important) JBap’s headless body is entombed. (There’s no Herod banquet scene–it was written by an editor.) The Chorus and the audience process the report of JBap’s death and observe his entombment. JBap’s disciples exit. Then the action focused on Jesus resumes at 7:1.

  2. Was Neil taking about Mark or Matthew? Regardless, you mentioned something that strikes a cord with me, that explains the narrative.
    “rather, the evangelizing of the Twelve disciples and the number Twelve are a decades-later creation of editor(s) to enhance the authority of the Twelve.”

    It’s seems that the 12 disciples displaced the Twelve Tribes. Seems like this could only happen after the Jewish religion was decimated by the 70AD event. If before, they’d hang Matthew by the yard-arm. So it’s all post 70AD narratives to fill in the ultimate dead-time of the Jewish religion. Trying to put a timeline on Jesus’ daily activities is a useless endeavor, I think.

    1. “So it’s all post 70AD narratives to fill in the ultimate dead-time of the Jewish religion.” Yes, I think that the religious tradition that goes from Hebrews through Mark (with Jesus as the heavenly high priest in the heavenly temple) was perfectly positioned to replace the Judean religion centered on the earthly Temple. At least there was an alternative available (for Hellenized Judeans). One would like to know how the Pharisees coped. I mean, Talmudism wasn’t around yet.

      1. Danila, what is your opinion about when the Letter to the Hebrews was written? Was it written:

        Before the Events of 70 CE?

        2.a) After the Events of 70 CE but not mentioning them because they were irrelevant to the author’s thesis?

        2.b) After the Events of 70 CE but not mentioning them because the author wanted to seem pre-70 CE?

        1. #1, before 70 CE. The troubles suffered by the community were the Alexandrian riots of 38 and 40 CE https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandrian_riots_(38_CE) Alexandria fits as the location, as there were (para? lay?) Essenes there, the Judeans were highly Hellenized and the author of Hebrews writes a beautiful Greek (so scholars say, but it comes through in translation), and there’s no sign of Jesus=heavenly high priest in any Christian text from Judea/Syria/Turkey.
          PLUS, I think that Mark and his Roman congregation were Alexandrian in origin, and would have used Alexandrian texts. http://www.thetwogospelsofmark.com/2020/08/07/what-was-the-origin-of-marks-congregation/
          The evidence is extremely fragmentary, of course, and this is just one inductive explanation of it.

            1. Well, the author of Hebrews sounds like he is admonishing (2:1) a dedicated religious community (3:1), not a once-a-week congregation of lay people:
              2:1 Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
              3:1 Therefore, brothers, holy partners in a heavenly calling

              The simplest explanation seems to me to be that this community (called “Therapeutae” ?) served as the house intellectuals for some lay Alexandrian congregations (the way the Mishnaic rabbis intellectually influenced the Pharisees), and at some point Alexandrian lay people brought the text to Rome when they founded their own congregation there.

              1. The ancient Greek term “therapeutes” for “professional healers” brings to mind the late Hector Avalos’s Health Care and the rise of Christianity (1999) &
                Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia and Israel (1995)

        2. “After the Events of 70 CE but not mentioning them because the author wanted to”…justify the 70 AD event – as a prophecy.

          “Hebrews 3:1–4 (KJV 1900): consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; 2 Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. 3 For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. 4 For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God”
          House = Temple??

          1. I have not read the book because there are so many other books that I want to read (about Buddhism and other topics). But I am aware about the book and its theses, which I think deserve more consideration. Certainly, any book that emphasizes the equality (if not superiority) of Buddhist and Greek philosophical thought is valuable in my opinion.

              1. No, but I am not unfamiliar with his claims (albeit from other sources), nor with efforts by Roman Catholic theologians to develop interesting theories about Buddhism and/or Christianity. For example, I have read a sympathetic account of Tibetan Buddhism written by Francis V. Tiso, who has argued that the same phenomenon underlies both Jesus’s resurrection and certain Tibetan Buddhist masters’ abilities to produce “rainbow bodies” when they die.

    2. “It’s seems that the 12 disciples displaced the Twelve Tribes.”

      And just think some centuries later it got recyled through syncretism into twelve infallible imams for the ‘Twelvers’ who gave the world some wonder ayatollahs.

      Continuous syncretism recyling this stuff over and over since Plato advised a division of an ideal nation into twelve groups of people: “the idea for the earliest Bible came out of Plato’s Laws, which proposed a new form of government with divinely inspired laws and a carefully approved ethical national literature. Plato said that if the ruling class of priests and educators could persuade the populace that their new laws and literature were both ancient and inspired, the new nation could last forever. Gmirkin’s book proposes that the Jewish nation and its Bible were the first and only implementation of Plato’s Laws in antiquity.” & “Jewish, Christian and pagan authors since ancient times commented on the close relationship between the Bible and Plato’s writings. Both contained similar ideas about a single supreme creator God, divine laws, universal education using inspired texts, national rule under priestly guidance, and even the division of the nation into twelve tribes. It is now becoming clear that the Bible’s authors borrowed these ideas from Plato.”

        1. https://biblehub.com/greek/2318.htm Turn up anything new on your Hypsistarians? https://biblehub.com/greek/4576.htm https://biblehub.com/greek/2150.htm Someone who was often in Kandahar during the war reminded me of how ‘eusebeia’ was used in an inscription still to be found on a rock outcropping near there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandahar_Bilingual_Rock_Inscription ‘In the Edict, Ashoka advocates the adoption of “Piety” (using the Greek term Eusebeia for “Dharma”) to the Greek community.’

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