Peter and Paul, miracle workers

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by Neil Godfrey

I have not posted so frequently here but have been busy on the blog pages …. if you have an interest in comparing how the author of Acts of the Apostles paired Peter and Paul as miracle workers check out the latest addition to my series of translations of Bruno Bauer.


More works of Bruno Bauer now translated and online

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by Neil Godfrey

All three volumes of Bauer’s criticism of the gospels — works that led to his dismissal from his position at Bonn University — are now publicly available in English:

Critique of the Evangelical History of the Synoptics = Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker — 1841

The third volume — 1842 — includes a comparison of the Gospel of John with the Synoptic Gospels in their treatment of the Passion Narrative.

I have also translated Bauer’s earlier analysis of the Gospel of John and plan to make that available here soon-ish, too.

Other works of Bruno Bauer now available in English:

Criticism of the Pauline Letters

Christ and the Caesars

Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin — this is a later publication than the one mentioned at the beginning of this post.

They are all listed in the right margin of this blog– just check the pages listed there.

Another title I hope to make available before long is BB’s treatment of the Acts of the Apostles.


Oh Gospel of Mark, how you have led us on!

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by Neil Godfrey

How often have we found opinions expressed about those two sons of the cross-bearing Simon of Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus, mentioned only in the Gospel of Mark? Usually we read that the author was giving a wink to his local readers who knew them personally. But these readers all turned and smiled at the pair in their midst when the passage was read because no other gospel mentions them. The reason, we are commonly assured, is that the later authors did not know who they were so dropped them from their crucifixion narratives.

It’s a nice story, but surely a little reflection exposes it as false as the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. Did the authors following Mark personally know all of the characters mentioned by Mark? Did that personal ignorance lead them to drop any mention of them from their versions of events? Does not our experience with obscure figures in ancient literature teach us that rather than remove scenes that seem too sparse later authors prefer to augment them, to invent details to make stick figures more rounded? Compare, for instance, how the unnamed centurion plunging a spear into Jesus’ side in John’s gospel was later given a name and whole anecdotes were filled out about him.

Meanwhile, what are we to make of Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon of Cyrene?

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. — Mark 15:21

Are they added because of their symbolism? A Jewish name being the father of a Greek and a Roman name? It certainly looks like an enticing idea — all nations represented at the moment of the crucifixion. Or do they represent gnostic leaders? Or are they figures recalling the destruction of the Jews in wars, as proposed by Andreas Bedenbender? There have been many proposals and many discussions in print and online. I once pointed to them to remark on what I saw as literary bookend patterns in Mark.

But what if….. what if they were never part of the Gospel of Mark when it was composed but were later additions that had no relevance to the gospel at all?

Bruno Bauer introduced me to that possibility and I was compelled to consult the source that led him to his doubts. In a footnote in the final volume of his critique of the gospel narrative he wrote:

The further specification, “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” is an excess that is unfamiliar to Mark. It is an addition that a much later reader inserted. The two names are arbitrarily taken from the letters of the New Testament. (p. 291, translation)

How could he say such a thing about a question that has puzzled and exercised so many minds and generated so many theories? Bauer frequently critically cites Christian Gottlob Wilke so back to his 1838 work on the first gospel I turned.

Wilke believed “Bartimaeus” was not a name given to the blind man Jesus healed in the original author of the Gospel of Mark. The original text simply called him a “blind man”. If he had been known by a certain name he would not subsequently (10:49) have been simply referred to as “the blind man”. (If that is correct, we are following another rabbit hole if we use Bartimaeus to decipher Plato’s influence coded in the gospel.)

Then Wilke writes about the words in Mark 15:21, “the father of Alexander and Rufus”, saying that they . . .

. . . do not belong to the original text. Had Simon been thus more particularly designated, how would it have been previously stated that “a certain man of Cyrene” was compelled? (The readers who knew the man did not need the stipulation that he was of Cyrene, and for those who did not know him the latter was sufficient, nay, it is evident from it that it was the very thing which should have substituted for the name). (p. 673, translation)

He continues by noting a similar case for Levi being designated a “son of Alphaeus” in Mark 3. If he is correct there, that demolishes another set of theories such as those of Dale and Patricia Miller.

But Wilke does have a point. The way “father of Alexander and Rufus” is introduced is not the typical way one would introduce a new figure who is supposedly recognized by the readers.

Whatever the reality, one point that we are reminded of here: our earliest surviving texts are far removed from the originals. We cannot guarantee “every jot and tittle” has been preserved without some sort of corruption. We do know that copyists for innocent reasons and for more malign motives did sometimes edit what they copied.

We do not have sound foundations on which to base any discussion that relies upon a conviction that specific words and names were part of the original documents — unless we have early independent supporting evidence to give us such assurance.

Bauer, Bruno. Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker und des Johannes. Vol. 3. 3 vols. Hildesheim ; New York : Olms, 1974 [1842]. http://archive.org/details/kritikderevangel0003baue.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. Der Urevangelist oder exegetisch kritische Untersuchung über das Verwandtschaftsverhältniss der drei ersten Evangelien. Dresden ; Leipzig : Gerhard Fleischer, 1838. http://archive.org/details/derurevangelisto0000wilk.



Understanding Bruno Bauer

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by Neil Godfrey

I have been posting section by section my translations of Bruno Bauer’s gospel criticisms here and can note:

  1. he is a must-read author for anyone wanting to understand the evidence that the narratives arose from authorial creativity and not from inherited traditions;
  2. he is quite difficult for anyone who is not familiar with Hegelian thought to understand his explanations for historical origins of religious ideas.

I thought I would try to sort out my difficulty with #2 by picking up Douglas Moggach’s study of Bruno Bauer: The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Unfortunately, I found its opening pages virtually incomprehensible since they were clearly written for mature initiates into Hegelian philosophy. So after searching “Hegel for Dummies” online I settled on Stephen Houlgate’s An introduction to Hegel : freedom, truth, and history. It is excellent! Houlgate doesn’t assume any knowledge at all of Hegelian thought among his readers and he illustrates each explanatory step with real-world illustrations. I look forward to gaining enough of an understanding to turn again to Bruno Bauer and not be fazed by his references to “self-consciousness” in the context of historical discussions.

(To me, the words “self consciousness” bring to mind works by Patricia Churchland and others. I need to shift a gear when reading the Hegelian Bauer.)

What I have enjoyed the most about my new reading is discovering the political focus of Bruno Bauer — and his brother and his associates. He was a “republican” — though I am still to learn what that exactly meant to him, as it is clear that his republicanism opposed not only socialism but also liberalism.

As for the anti-semitism associated with his later years, I have read mixed accounts. Some say it was “blatant”, others that he stood opposed to the possibility of religion being the basis for a free and democratic society. (If the latter, one surely sees the truth of that view in the modern state of Israel with its extreme right-wing religiously dominated government.)  But my focus will be on his early years and his biblical criticism. I am curious to learn more about the reasons for his dispute with David Friedrich Strauss.

The Wikipedia page on Bruno Bauer concludes with an irrelevant little tirade against “mythicism”. The author clearly never read Bauer’s own arguments and grounds for thinking that the gospel narratives arose from the experience of the early Christian community rather than from oral or other “traditions”.



Bruno Bauer: Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Other posts arguing against the view that Second Temple Jews were longing for the appearance of a messiah:

Were Jews Hoping for a Messiah to Deliver Them from Rome? Raising Doubts (2019-05-07)

“The Chosen People Were Not Awaiting the Messiah” (2019-05-05)

Myth of popular messianic expectations at the time of Jesus (2017-02-03)

Questioning Carrier and the Conventional Wisdom on Messianic Expectations (2016-08-02) – annotated links to six other posts addressing the question.

Having questioned the common notion that Jesus made his appearance in a society pining for the coming of a deliverer to free the Jews from Rome, I was happily surprised to see further arguments against the same common idea set out 180 years ago in an appendix to a multi-volume work on the gospels written by Bruno Bauer.

I have posted the translation below but for those in a rush here are the key takeaways:

  • – A survey of the Second Temple literature demonstrates a distinct lack of interest in the idea of a literal Davidic messianic figure about to appear in the future. [Bauer was writing before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls but see the posts in response to Richard Carrier in the side box for what other scholars have had to say on that so-called evidence for popular messianism.]
  • – If Judeans had developed ideas about a coming messiah from their prophetic texts we would expect to see in the gospels some reference to stock ideas from those supposedly widespread ideas. Instead, the gospel authors are “winging it” — they come up with different possibilities for interpreting Old Testament passages as messianic and are evidently not tapping in to common ideas supposedly extant at the time. They are creating the prophetic interpretations, not inheriting common stock.
  • – History-changing personalities have always made their impact by the originality of their ideas and presence; they have not made a splash by claiming to be a popularly pre-figured person.

Here is the full translation of Bauer’s discussion in the first volume of Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics (1841) [=Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker]

I have added sub-headings to make it easier to focus on points of particular interest.

The Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus

All those who have spoken out against Strauss’s interpretation of the evangelical history in recent years also felt it was their duty to protest against the derivation of sacred history from the Messianic expectations of the Jews. But this protest, no matter how earnestly intended or spoken with holy disgust at the supposed blasphemy, was from the beginning powerless and remained so, since it could not prevent Gfrörer from developing the contested view to the extreme that it could reach. But what use was it to recall that this or that Jewish book, which the critic designated as a source for the views of the evangelists, was written six, seven, or fourteen centuries after the composition of the Gospels? What could an argument of this kind achieve, which only focused on individual and few points, if one shared with Strauss the basic assumption that Messianic expectation had already prevailed among the Jews before the appearance of Jesus, and even knew fairly accurately what its nature was? To the same extent, a dispute of this kind had to be futile and useless, just as it was impossible for Strauss to make the origin of the evangelical history understandable, as long as he, like Hengstenberg, considered the Messianic dogma of the Jews as one that had already been fully developed before the appearance of Jesus. Both criticism and apologetics shared the same error, their struggle could only lead to unfruitful quarrels, but not to a decision, and the matter suffered most – it remained buried in prejudices.


Since Gfrörer has now taken uncritical thinking to its peak, it is finally time to come to our senses and to recognize reason, which has not yet come to recognition in this regard after two thousand years of error in history. It is a matter of the utmost importance – who does not immediately sense it? – to bring criticism to its ultimate crisis and to make it the last judgment of the past by elevating it to complete ideality and universality and freeing it from the last unrecognized positive with which it has still been entangled. The last and most persistent assumption that it still shared with apologetics must be addressed – and how extraordinary is the reward that follows the resolution of this uncritical assumption when the creative power is again attributed to the Christian principle, which even the previous criticism had denied.

Thinking the unthinkable

Apologetics, as it has developed or rather remained the same since the beginning of the Christian community until our day, could not even conceive the idea that it might be possible to question whether the Messiah’s view had become a reflection concept before the time of Jesus and had come to power as such. It couldn’t – because it is already clear to them from the outset that the content of the revelation has always been the same and always the same one object of consciousness *); it must not – because in its limited polemical interest, it believes that the connection of the Old and New Testament is only ensured if it demonstrates the content of the latter as a real object of consciousness in the former. To interpret the preparation of Christianity differently, namely to say that Jesus only had to say: “See, I am what you have been expecting so far” – this is completely impossible for them.

*) The author allows himself to refer to the detailed explanation in his presentation of the Religion of the Old Testament, section 54.


Even Strauss shared the apologist assumption

Until now, it was impossible for criticism to free itself and history from the apologetic shackles, as every opposition in its first form shared the assumptions of its opponent and only determined them differently. Hengstenberg and those before him claimed that in Jesus, what the pious had hoped and expected had appeared, while Strauss claimed that in the Christian community, the history of Jesus had been created and elaborated as an image and fulfillment of Jewish expectations.

Intent to produce evidence

After having proven in the above criticism that the gospel history has its principle solely in Christian self-consciousness, and that its assumptions, as far as they are contained in the Old Testament, were only used by the community and the evangelists as these assumptions for the elaboration of the Christian principle and the messianic image, we want to provide evidence in outline that the messianic element of the Old Testament view did not develop into a reflection concept before the beginning of the Christian era.

It is not necessary to mention here in more detail that the messianic views of the prophets had not yet been raised by them to the unity and solidity of the concept of reflection; we have proven this in our presentation of the religion of the Old Testament. The interest of the present investigation lies solely in the question of whether the idea of “the Messiah” had prevailed among the Jews in the centuries immediately preceding the advent of Jesus.

The Numbers prophecy of Balaam

If we first examine the Septuagint, whose oldest components are said to date back to the third century BC, and Jonathan’s paraphrase, we have an example of what a translation of the Old Testament must look like when it is written in a time and environment where “the Messiah” has become the subject of consciousness and the view has become dogma. The translator must indicate explicitly the individual passages that can and should be interpreted messianically, and he must state expressly that the passage speaks of the Messiah at that point. A necessary consequence of this reflection will eventually be that even in the translation, the systematic theory cannot be denied, namely that the content of one passage is transferred to another and one view is combined with another – all things that one searches for in vain in the translation of the LXX. Once (in Balaam’s blessing, Num. 24:7), it is indeed said differently from the original text: “A man shall come out of Jacob’s seed and he shall rule over many peoples.” But it is not only not said that this man is the Messiah, it is rather clear that it is to be a man, that is, a future king in general, who (v.17) will wound the princes of Moab and plunder the children of Seth.


The Isaiah prophecy

Continue reading “Bruno Bauer: Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus”


BRUNO BAUER’s work on Paul’s Epistles – now available in English

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by Neil Godfrey

Another worthy study is now available in English — most belatedly, unfortunately, since it was first published 170 years ago in German! Again, see the right margin of this blog for links to works by Bruno Bauer:

Again, I have made it available as a single PDF file, too, though I expect over time I will see little corrections will be needed and there will be revisions. See vridar.info for the pdf.

(I have also completed a draft translation of another multi-volume work: Kritik der evangeliſchen Geſchichte der Synoptiker = Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics. I will need to spend a little time checking for major errors and any gaps before making it available. Hopefully no more than a few weeks. I will probably post an appendix from it before then, though — I was quite pleased to see that Bruno Bauer is another who found no evidence for popular messianic expectations in Judea prior to 70 CE and that the gospels actually serve as evidence against that common notion.)


Christ and the Caesars / Bruno Bauer – Now Online in English

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by Neil Godfrey

I have translated via machine tools Bruno Bauer’s Christ and the Caesars and made it available for all at a new page (see right margin), Bruno Bauer: Christ and the Caesars – in English. I have also formatted it as a single pdf file which is available at vridar.info.

It is a machine translation (DeepL, ChatGPT, Google Translate + some human checking from time to time) so it is not the best but it is readable — at least I found it to be so. I compared parts of it with another published translation and saw that the published book is also very close to a literal translation. A literal translation is not optimal (it is not always the easiest of reads) but this one is at least free.

ChatGPT to some extent tended to break away from the literal translation but at the cost of being too creative and even introducing what it thought should be corrections or additions to the original text! So I hope none of those creative additions slipped through to the finished product.






Israel’s Origins – before Palestine

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by Neil Godfrey

For earlier posts where I indicated the importance of some of Garbini’s approaches, see Testing (or not) Historical Sources for Reliability and Interview with Thomas L. Thompson #1.

The current post follows on from the previous one where we outlined the identification as “forerunners” of Israel the Banu Yamina (Benjamin) with their “davids” in the northern Syrian steppes during the second millennium BCE. One detail I did not note in that post but am adding here is that those same people had a particular group of diviners known as “nabi’um” — from which the Hebrew “navi”, meaning “prophet”, derives. So Garbini drew attention to the “Benjamin” confederacy having connections with Yahud, “davids” and “prophets”.

Giovanni Garbini traced the origins, migrations and settlements of Israel through his research as a professor of Semitic philology. In Garbini’s view, both “maximalists” (those who interpreted all archaeological evidence through the Bible) and “minimalists” (those who relied upon archaeological evidence ‘speaking for itself’) overlooked the evidence of epigraphy — the study of place and ethnic names in both the archaeological finds and the Bible. Garbini wrote that he…

found himself alone in supporting the thesis that adequate linguistic and philological preparation, with the support of extrabiblical sources, makes it possible to reconstruct the ancient history of Israel differently from the biblical account, using the Bible itself as the main source . . . (Scrivere, p. 11 – translation)

Throughout much of that second millennium in the northern Syrian steppes tribal groups were changing their seminomadic and pastoralist lifestyles when they built and settled into cities, allowing for new groups to move in to surrounding areas, with those semi-nomadic groups ever-changing their confederations, with new tribes emerging and older ones disappearing, always over the centuries in ethnic and tribal flux.

Egypt dominated the coastal and hinterland region as far as today’s Lebanon up until the 1300s BCE when we have Egyptian records informing us that new tribal groups and mercenary armies were threatening the security of cities over which Egypt had been the hegemon.

When Garbini integrates these Egyptian records with those of the Assyrian kingdom covering the ensuing century he pinpoints a critical new group of people who will become major players in the Levant: the name by which they were eventually most commonly known was the Aramaeans. They are sometimes named in association with one of the tribes of the Banu Yamini (or “Benjamin”, whom we met in the previous post.)

The Assyrians first encountered the Aramaeans in the northern region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The region between the Tigris and Euphrates where the Assyrians first encountered these Aramaeans was known as Musri. Over the following centuries Musri was also identified on both sides of the Euphrates and in the ninth century, at the Battle of Qaqar on the Orontes River, some of the combatants were identified as Musri. Evidently they took their name from the region where they had originated. It appears that this branch of Aramaeans was gradually moving west.

1300’s BCE — Israel came out of ‘Egypt’, or Musri?

What are we to make of this name “Musri”?

Musri in the Bible

Musri is also mentioned in the Bible, or rather it was mentioned, because in the current text, both in Hebrew and Greek, this name has been systematically concealed through a series of textual interventions. (Scrivere, p. 22 – translation)

Garbini sets out the evidence that the Hebrew Bible we know today has several times replaced Musri with the name Egypt. When it was not replaced, it was spelled incorrectly to make it look like another name for Egypt (msrym instead of mwsr). At some stage scribes associated closely with Jerusalem and who were responsible for the Hebrew Bible attempted to downplay early links between Israel and the northern Aramaean people and region. They repeatedly stressed that though Abraham had come from Mesopotamia, Israel grew into a nation in Egypt and Yahweh who drew them out of Egypt. That was their identity.

But the evidence of philology, the names in the sources, indicate that Israel rather came from the north, from Musri and the Aramaic area, Garbini explains.

In Garbini’s view, some of the biblical books preserve very ancient traditions to this effect:

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, . . . Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” . . . . 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramaean . . .  — Deut. 26:1-5

Hosea fondly looks back on the time Israel was in Egypt and called out to be with God, but any perusal of that time in the Pentateuch quickly reminds us it was not a time of fond romance but one of tension, rebellion, so much so that God cursed the entire generation and even required Moses to die before entering the promised land. Hosea and Amos warn that Israel will be punished by being made to return to Assyria — and Egypt, in a context that suggests Egypt is near or under the dominion of Assyria. That makes more sense if the original text spoke of Musri, Garbini argues. There are other detailed arguments but I am avoiding the technicalities in this post.

The testimony of Hosea and the stories about the patriarchs, which were written at a later date, reveal the existence of a remarkably ancient tradition that traced the origins of Israel and Ephraim to the environment of the Aramaic-speaking seminomads who, starting from the 15th century BC, moved in the land of Musri, i.e. the vast steppe area of northern Syria that extended on both sides of the Upper Euphrates. Here, through processes that we do not know, a homogeneous group of tribes was formed, which took the name of Israel and at a certain moment began to move southwards. If several centuries later a prophet, who felt himself to be the custodian of the religious tradition of the group to which he belonged, launched reproaches and threats to his contemporaries who, in his opinion, did not honor the god who had brought them to the land of Canaan enough, it is very likely that the cult of that god played an important role in the formation of Israel. (Scrivere, p. 25 – translation)

Abraham, King of Damascus – and the Damascus Document

If, with Garbini, we leave aside the Bible and look at other traditions about Israel’s origins, we find that there was a tradition that Abraham was a king in Damascus: Continue reading “Israel’s Origins – before Palestine”

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