Updated — the Bar Kochba-NT Connection

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by Neil Godfrey

I have updated my annotated list of posts on the Book of Revelation. Look under “Archives by Topic” in the right margin or just click this link.

It is worth pointing out the other NT connection with the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion — the Second Letter to the Thessalonians: Identifying the “Man of Sin” in 2 Thessalonians

Another take on that letter, one that concludes with a date a little earlier than the 132-135 Jewish War — the time of Trajan (a time of mass slaughter of Jews outside Palestine): How a Spurious Letter “From Paul” Inspired the End Time Prophecies of the New Testament — And not to forget another old favourite: Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt

I only post these here now because they relate to my recent (and less recent) posts on Turmel and Witulski’s studies in Revelation. I’m not pronouncing any decided position of my own on their dates.

But in browsing over these older posts what did catch my eye was a pertinent point that I do think has much significance and is unjustifiably overlooked by too many conservative scholars:

First, Hermann Detering:

It is important to emphasize that neither the Ignatian letters, nor 1 Clement, nor the Epistle of Barnabas, nor the Didache, nor any other early Christian documents are able to witness with certainty to the existence of the Synoptic Gospels, whose names they nowhere mention.2 One cannot even demonstrate a knowledge of the synoptic Gospels for Justin in the middle of the second century, even if he obviously did know a kind of Gospel literature, namely the “Memoirs of the Apostles,” which was already publicly read in worship services in his time. (pp 162f – HD’s article is accessible here)

Compare Markus Vinzent:

Thus, even though Klinghardt makes a good argument that the compilation of texts known as the New Testament was already known to Justin, and perhaps even to Marcion, it is only from Irenaeus onward that the four gospels can safely be said to have been known, as supported by external evidence. . . .

Both Klinghardt and David Trobisch, on whom Klinghardt has built his thesis on the canonical editing of the New Testament, have come under heavy criticism from many of their peers; however, they have been defended by Jan Heilmann on good grounds.

I have read many of Klinghardt’s arguments for specific events in Justin’s writings indicating a knowledge of our canonical gospels but I have not yet seen a comprehensive rebuttal of this kind of reading into Justin’s work as addressed by Walter Cassels way back in 1879.

The first task of all historical researchers is to examine the provenance of their sources. I keep bumping into the same wall as Detering and Vinzent: it is only wishful imagination that can establish our biblical and apocryphal sources as early as the first century. Something happened in the early decades of the second century, though.

Since we cannot go further back than Marcion’s testimonies, I shall start with him. . . .

The fact is that we have no evidence from before the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 ce) and only hear and read about Christian teachers in Rome for the first time after this period. Indeed, in Marcion’s time there was evidently a migration of teachers from Asia Minor and Greece to Rome and we can recognize a rapidly flourishing Christian literature from this time onwards. This indicates to us that this Jewish war created a sociopolitical situation in which Jewish as well as Roman life was faced with new, extraordinary challenges and the corresponding impulses toward innovation. (Vinzent, pp. 327f – my bolding)

More thoughts to come…

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14 thoughts on “Updated — the Bar Kochba-NT Connection”

  1. I really hope that you will be willing to explain on this blog why, if 1 accepts the redating of Christian texts whgich you advance, why Christianity as a whole cannot be dated to post-100 CE. You keep referring to the fact that the authors refer to long-standing Christian communities, but if the writings are from the 130s, an entire generation of Christians would have arisen since the movement’s origin. Furthermore, the preservation of the writings by Prabhupada the founder of ISKCON Hinduism (and his followers within the movement) in the United States during the 1960s to 1990s reveals that a movement can undergo rapid growth and production of literature within a generation of its origin.

    You may allege that ISKCON Hinduism, unlike Christianity, is not a new religion but is merely a form of Krishna-centred Hinduism developed among a non-Hindu audience in another land based upon a marginal Hindu scholarly lineage’s eccentric interpretation as spread by charismatic missionaries. But Christianity can be conceived of also as being a form of Christ-Centred Judaism developed among a non-Hindu audience in another land based upon a marginal Jewish scholarly lineage’s eccentric interpretation as spread by charismatic missionaries.

    1. I don’t know when Christianity began to form. It could have been in the first century. It could have been early in the second century. I simply do not know. I am often trying to think through the best and cleanest explanation of the evidence in its own right (cleansed of circular readings that push them back to earlier times.)

      We have echoes of some early Christian rites and views in some of the Dead Sea writings. What is the place of the Samaritans (not only Simon Magus) in this history? What lay behind Marcionism?

      If a hypothesis of a historical Jesus turns out to be able to best answer so many questions arising then we have a good case for a historical Jesus behind it all.

      One thing does seem to be reasonably clear to me, however: the conventional idea we have of Christianity, belief in the Jesus of the four gospels or as a figure who had a life on earth fulfilling OT prophecies before bodily ascending back to heaven — all of that kind of Christianity appears undeniably of second century origin.

      1. Correction for my earlier comment: “Christ-Centred Judaism developed among a non-Hindu audience” was meant to be “Christ-Centred Judaism developed among a non-Jewish audience”

        “What is the place of the Samaritans (not only Simon Magus) in this history?”

        For what it is worth, I wonder whether Simon Magus was really a Samaritan or whether he only claimed to be a Samaritan in order to link himself to an ancient and exotic eastern monotheism while avoiding linking himself to the violent anti-Roman associations of Judaism and to Roman anti-Semetism. Other people are free to refute my thoughts (which I raise without endorsing).

        “What lay behind Marcionism?”

        That is a major issue, indeed. Are you perhaps suggesting that Marcion, rather than being an innovator, was merely presenting what others had taught to him, and that the assertion that he had developed it was an anti-Marcionite polemic?

        “One thing does seem to be reasonably clear to me, however: the conventional idea we have of Christianity, belief in the Jesus of the four gospels or as a figure who had a life on earth fulfilling OT prophecies before bodily ascending back to heaven — all of that kind of Christianity appears undeniably of second century origin.”

        To that, I would add the claim that this Jesus was teaching upon the Earth while he was alive – if 1 concedes that he was alive while upon the Earth.

        1. Re Marcion, I don’t know the best way to explain the details we have. Those details do suggest that Marcionism did rise in opposition against a more Judean form of the “Christianity”. But how to place these sorts of data in line with what the evidence allows us to say about the other NT writings?

          As for the Samaritans as a whole (leaving aside the Magus for the moment), I have sometimes wondered if there may be relevance in the evidence that the Samaritans stood back from Bar Kochba’s revolt.

          1. My major objection to the idea that Christianity arose from Samaritanism is that Christianity does not use the Samaritans’ scriptures but the Jews’ scriptures – although this is no barrier to Christianity’s having been heavily influenced by Samaritanism, I suppose.

            1. The canonical gospels may have used the Jewish/Judean Scriptures but do they not represent later forms of Christianity, not its origins? Paul’s letters often cite prophets (e.g. Isaiah) but the passages that do so are argued by quite a few to be interpolations.

              You raise a major point, though. We need to beware of our assumptions and likely text sources when working through various arguments to explain Christianity’s origins.

              1. But why would the Christians have needed to switch to Judaean scriptures if the Christians had been originally based upon Samaritan tradition? Were they pretending to be linked to Jews because of prestiege or a desire to avoid prosecution (perhaps during the Bar Kokhba War)?

                I raise these questions because if Christians had been inspired by Samaritanism, then the anti-Semitic strains of Christian thought would have been, I think, made more coherent rather than decreased in coherence by emphasizing Christianity’s Samaritanness – because the Samaritans already claim that the Jews are not worshipping YHWH correctly. In contrast, Christianity, by claiming to have developed out of Judaeism, was and is constantly struggling with the question of why, if the Jews could be trusted enough to provide accurate and spiritually useful scriptures, the Jews should be regarded as having misinterpreted their own scriptures.

                If these thoughts from me are wrong, I welcome correction.

              2. It’s a great question — I say that because it’s among the several that have kept me awake at night now for quy response was one hypothetical addressing another hypothetical, of course — I really simply don’t know when or where or how Christianity began. I don’t know if they really did begin with “Samaritan” as opposed to the “Jewish” Scriptures. But you raise an interesting question.

                What follows is me thinking “aloud” — I plead for patience as I work through my thoughts.

                But let’s imagine a Samaritan figure at the beginning of what became Christianity. Was that Samaritan figure a revealer of a heavenly or past historical saviour person, or was he pointing to himself as the saviour? Whatever the answer, the question that relates to that is whether that movement was seeking to unite Jews, Samaritans and gentiles, or just Jews and Samaritans, and/or whether he/they were trying to replace or supercede all Scriptures, whether Jewish and/or Samaritan …. we cannot know, of course. And we are not in the world of Scriptures alone, but in a world filled with all sorts of other writings too — pseudepigrapha, etc. Were appeals to Scripture of any kind a late afterthought? Or were they there from the foundation?

                But I imagine a range of backgrounds and prior interest groups being involved. It was not a strictly Jews OR Samaritan OR Greek ONLY sect. There was some overlap from the beginning, was there not? That would open potential for new and revisionist ideas to enter.

                The question comes down to “When”. When did Christianity or some significant branch of it take up its dialogue with Jewish Scriptures?

                My limited understanding of the Bar Kochba war is that the Samaritans were not on the side of Bar Kochba — they were, in effect, either neutral or on the gentile side of the conflict with the Judeans. We have indications of an “anti-Jewish” Christianity or a pro-Samaritan and pro-gentile Christianity from very early days. There is some evidence that the name of Paul is associated with that anti-Jewish/anti-Judean pro-gentile Christianity from the earliest times. The Book of Revelation appears to represent a pro-Jewish and anti-Pauline branch of Christianity,

                But we also know that there was a war over the who owned the name of Paul. Some who claimed Paul as theirs were anti-Jewish ; others were pro-Jewish/Judeans.

                So somehow two branches of Christianity emerged, one pro-Jewish (and ultimately pro-Rome/orthodox) and the other anti-Judean/Jewish. Somehow both sides attempted to claim Paul as their originator.

                The Letter to the Galatians indicates that Christianity began as Jewish, from Jerusalem, and that Paul was the renegade — though in our received version of the letter we read that Paul was accepted, embraced by the Jerusalem/Judean sector. Was that the real history? Or was Paul really opposed to the Jerusalem apostles — anti-Jewish, if you will?

                I will leave it there — you may have more questions that will help me explore the problem further.

  2. I should remember the name of the mythicist who argued for the Book of Revelation being Christian since the more economical explanation assumes that the same sect was behind the figure of the Lamb immolated, rather than assuming (very not-economically) that two Jewish sects arrived independently one from the other to adore an entity who posed as the Lamb (i.e. replacing all the sacrifices). Afterall, why was Turmel reluctant to christianize the original Revelation? If he had done so, then he couldn’t more argue for the Eucharist episode in Paul (an episode where Jesus does the function of the lamb of the old sacrificial cult) being a Catholic (anti-Marcionite) interpolation. It is a genuine dilemma!

    1. On the contrary, I would argue that if 1 Jewish sect was able to incorporate the motif of a heavenly lamb sacrifice, then surely another could have also, based, I assume, upon the passages in the Hebrews’ scriptures condemning sacrifice and other motifs.

      1. Please note the difference between the two sects:
        the Jewish sect that invented this Lamb theology was, according to Turmel’s reading of the Revelation, the survived followers of Bar-Kokhba. I.e., a pure 100% Jewish sect evolved naturally towards the Lamb theology.
        The Christian sect that adopted independently the Lamb theology (and finally absorbed the book of Revelation) was, according to Turmel, not just so ‘Jewish’ by the time of the adoption: we are talking about the Catholic sect, i.e. a sect that was born in opposition to Simonianism/Marcionism, by merging the latter’s mysticism with the Jewish-Christian traditions preceding the Marcionism (according to Turmel) and the Lamb theology.

        Hence my question is: if the Lamb theology was a natural development for a Jewish sect (what was more Jewish than the Bar-Kokhba’s sect?), why didn’t Turmel pose the Lamb theology also at the origin itself of the Christianity, rather than at the end (i.e. after Marcion) of it? It would be more economical as solution, isn’t it?

        1. My strong suspicion is that, for the Turmel’s view of the Origins, the presence of the Lamb theology in a so violently anti-Roman text (= Revelation) is a very disturbing element: Turmel had written a lot about the Lamb theology being introduced in the Catholic redaction of the epistles, and the Catholics are the same sect that had interpolated Romans 13:1-7 (paying the tributes is a pious act), i..e they were pro-Roman from the day zero. How could the same Lamb theology be born independently in an anti-Roman sect and in a pro-Roman sect?

          Hence the link Bar-Kokhba’s sect/Revelation is a mere expedient by Turmel to elude the problem without really resolving it. Think about it: if a Christian text was anti-Roman (hence: 100% Jewish), if it had the Lamb theology, and if it ignored totally the crucifixion of the Lamb (according to the same Turmel), then, to put it bluntly, a historical Jesus in a such text simply is absent.

          1. From the other hand, I should signal a new trend in recent Christian apologetics: the apologists want that Revelation was a Christian text because thereby they can write, as this author:

            The idea that the evangelists only introduced “nonviolence” as a secondary ideology into the developing tradition is also undermined by the fact that the tradition’s appeal to rhetorical violence actually escalates in the last decades of the first century. (Simon J. Joseph, The Rejected Jesus, p. 57)
            (The wider contest of this quote is one of the greatest pieces of apologetics I have read in my entire life)

            Hence I am inclined to follow Turmel’s view of Revelation.

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