Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science
Category: Biblical Studies
The biggie. Much work needs to be done on the children of this category. These need to be greatly reduced in number.
Should this category include the ancient history of Palestine-Judea, including second temple era and Bar Kochba rebellion and rise of rabbinic culture? If so, should Biblical Studies itself be renamed in some way?
In the previous post, we discussed McGrath’s assertion that the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple was learning from the teachers of the law. According to the esteemed doctor, Jesus was just a really good pupil. In rebuttal, I provided some reasons to think that Luke wanted us to believe Jesus “astonished” his interlocutors with his insightful questions and answers. Joel Green, the author of one of the better commentaries on Luke, says Jesus was at least on equal footing with men who had devoted their entire lives to studying the law.
Not a Pupil, Not a Fan
As I mentioned last time, Green cited a paper by Dennis Sylva that lists a few reasons why he thinks Luke had no intention of portraying Jesus as a student. In “The Cryptic Clause,” he writes:
Luke did not present Jesus as a pupil of the Jewish teachers, as scholars often suppose. . . . The fact that Jesus is said to have questioned the teachers and answered questions does not necessarily mean that Jesus is presented as a student of the Jewish teachers. Luke often presents the adult Jesus as asking questions and answering them without portraying him as a student. . . . (Sylva 1987, pp. 136-137)
Exactly so. As we noted earlier, Jesus’ teaching method often involved both asking and answering questions. He continues:
Further, Luke writes that the child Jesus was kathezomenon en mesō tōn didaskalōn (Lk 246a). By way of contrast, Luke writes about how Paul “was taught at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). Still further, the fact that in subsequent chapters in the Lukan narrative Jesus is presented as condemning many views of the Jewish teachers makes it highly unlikely that Luke would present Jesus as a student of the Jewish teachers in Luke 24 1:51. (Sylva 1987, p.137, formatting altered slightly)
We picture Jesus sitting (καθεζόμενον) in the middle of the teachers, not learning at their feet. That’s a powerful image. Consider the social implications of a boy looking eye-to-eye at the most learned people in all of Judea. And recall that he’s been at this, allegedly, for three days.
Moreover, Sylva is absolutely correct about Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ relationship with the Jewish authorities, especially the doctors of the law. Does McGrath propose that he learned from them and then learned more later from some other source, thereby changing his outlook? Perhaps. We know he believes Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. And we’ve already noted that he thinks Jesus had some education previous to the encounter in the Temple.
The depiction of Jesus on the cusp of adolescence in the Gospel of Luke already suggests a certain level of prior education. (McGrath 2021, p. 25)
Memory, Essence, and Gist
Now the mythical tale of the boy in the Temple can serve a dual purpose: It foreshadows Jesus’ career as a teacher and it magically reveals the gist of his actual, real-life, honest-to-goodness historical education.
Regardless of McGrath’s intentions here, the reader will easily infer that the historical Jesus “must have” acquired some education in his youth. We’ve seen this sleight-of-hand maneuver in NT Studies many times before. Continue reading “A Wunderkind in the Temple? (Part 2)”
The striking difference between pre-Christian Jewish concepts and those of Christianity is that the latter eschewed abstract notions of messiahs and divine messengers and fleshed them out with names and personalities. Where we read in the Qumran scrolls about a “Teacher of Righteousness”, Priests, Messiahs, Overseers, in the early Christian literature we meet personal names (Jesus, John) and titles (Christ, Baptist) and even signatures (Paul et al.) The new ideas were conveyed as stories, not merely abstract doctrines. Charbonnel cites André Paul, page 84, Qumrân et les Esséniens : l’éclatement d’un dogme:
We were no longer in the theoretical but in the real. We are talking about concrete people, who, moreover, have names. (Original: On n’était plus dans le théorique mais dans le réel. Il s’agit de personnes concrètes, qui de surcroît ont des noms.)
The question is: Were these the names of real people or were they the names of personifications of things to do with God and Israel and that pertain to salvation. Does the name of Jesus enter our history because it was the name of a historical figure or was it born as a personification of the Name of God? In the earlier posts, we saw how Jesus was made the personification of the People of God and of Yahweh on earth, and of the Temple and Glory of the Divine Presence (Shekinah).
Veneration of the Name
Within the heart of the Judaism of the Second Temple was the veneration of the name of God.
The name Jesus, as we know, derives from the Hebrew meaning “It is Yahweh who saves”.
The Jesus of the New Testament, Charbonnel posits, is developed in part from the two other greats named Jesus in the Old Testament.
First, we have Joshua (= Jesus) who led Israel into the Promised Land. Today few of us would connect God’s instruction to Moses about his messenger (commonly translated “angel”) bearing the divine name with Joshua, but we know from the second century Justin that early Christians did make that connection.
See, I am sending an angel [= messenger] ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.
Here is Justin’s understanding taken from his Dialogue with Trypho, 75:
Moreover, in the book of Exodus we have also perceived that the name of God Himself which, He says, was not revealed to Abraham or to Jacob, was Jesus, and was declared mysteriously through Moses. Thus it is written: ‘And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send My angel before thy face, to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to Him, and obey Him; do not disobey Him. For He will not draw back from you; for My name is in Him.‘ Now understand that He who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus, and first called Auses(Oshea). For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses, ‘for My name is in Him,’ was Jesus. For, indeed, He was also called Israel, and Jacob’s name was changed to this also.
Justin is writing in the second century but his explanation of the choice of the name Jesus does have a “midrashic” rationale.
Then there is another Jesus or Joshua, the high priest who, on his return with his people from the Babylonian exile led them in the reconstruction of the temple.
Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two [roles – Priest and King].’”
The third Joshua/Jesus inherits the roles of the first two.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Both are quoting Joel.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
To paraphrase Charbonnel, the essence of Christianity is the affirmation that the Lord, the Name of the Lord, and Jesus Christ, are one. In Joel, the call was to invoke the name of the God of the Covenant. This invocation now passes to Jesus because Jesus himself is recognized as the one with the name of God.
The narrative of the Gospel of Luke begins with the name given to the messiah. He was (literally) “called the name” Jesus (Luke 2:21– interlinear). We find the same “called the name” formula for the Davidic Messiah in the Qumran scrolls:
4Q381, fr 15
And I, Your anointed one [=messiah], have come to understand . . . will tell others about You, for You have given me knowledge, and indeed You have endowed me with great insight . . . for I am called by Your name, my God, and for your deliverance . . . . [7-9. Wise, Abegg, Cook]
In 1 Enoch we read that the Name had a pre-existence:
1 Enoch 48:3, 6
Even before the sun and the constellations were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his name was named before the Lord of Spirits. . . . He was chosen and hidden before him before the world was created, and for ever [or, until the coming of the Age].
Paul writes from deep within this cult of the name. See 1 Corinthians 1:2 and in particular,
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus, we recall, was also the personification of the Temple, and also identified with its cornerstone. We find the Name of God at the heart of the Temple and its cornerstone in a later Jewish text that is widely interpreted as an attack on Christianity, the Toledot Yeshu. I quote the relevant passage of the Toledot from Frank Zindler’s The Jesus the Jews Never Knew:
The Robbing of the Shem (the Shem = the Name, the ineffable name of God)
. . . And there was in the sanctuary a foundation-stone — and this is its interpretation: God founded it and this is the stone on which Jacob poured oil — and on it were written the letters of the Shem, and whosoever learned it, could do whatsoever he would. But as the wise feared that the disciples of lsrael might learn them and therewith destroy the world, they took measures that no one should do so.
Brazen dogs were bound to two iron pillars at the entrance of the place of burnt offerings, and whosoever entered in and learned these letters — as soon as he went forth again, the dogs bayed at him; if he then looked at them, the letters vanished from his memory.
The name of Jesus may have been changed to Jeschu to rob him of the letters that would identify the name with that of the Name of Yahweh.
This Jeschu [Jesus] came, learned them, wrote them on parchment, cut into his hip and laid the parchment with the letters therein — so that the cutting of his flesh did not hurt him — then he restored the skin to its place. When he went forth the brazen dogs bayed at him, and the letters vanished from his memory. He went home, cut open his flesh with his knife, took out the writing, learned the letters, went and gathered together three hundred and ten of the young men of Israel. (pp. 428ff)
Here, in an accusation against Christianity, we see Jesus literally “embodying” the perfect Name, although he does so illegitimately. Celsus records a Jew saying something similar — that the name of Jesus had magical power although it was at the behest of demons.
Origen, Contra Celsus, I.6
After this, through the influence of some motive which is unknown to me, Celsus asserts that it is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power; hinting, I suppose, at the practices of those who expel evil spirits by incantations. And here he manifestly appears to malign the gospel. For it is not by incantations that Christians seem to prevail [over evil spirits], but by the name of Jesus, accompanied by the announcement of the narratives which relate to Him ; for the repetition of these has frequently been the means of driving demons out of men, especially when those who repeated them did so in a sound and genuinely believing spirit. Such power, indeed, does the name of Jesus possess over evil spirits, that there have been instances where it was effectual, when it was pronounced even by bad men, which Jesus Himself taught [would be the case], when He said: “Many shall say to me in that day, In Thy name we have cast out devils, and done many wonderful works.”
This veneration of the name of Jesus continued throughout the subsequent centuries as witnessed in the lives of saints and the Christian Kabbalists. (See also the history of the name YHSWH – making the divine name pronounceable as Jesus — and the Sator square). Much has been written about the mystic analyses and plays with the divine name YHWH in later times but the point here is that a few of these ideas can be traced back to late antiquity and it is not unreasonable to think that their origins began in at least the gnostic forms of earliest Christianity and early elements of the Jewish religion. I may post some more details about these arcane ideas in a later post or two.
Till then, it is worth noticing that Moses created the name “Joshua” by changing the name of Hoshea to Joshua by placing at its beginning the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, God’s name. (Recall that in the earlier posts of this series that early Jewish scribes (and not only Jewish ones) found mystical significance in letters, their numerical values, puns, and so forth.) It was with the placing of this part of God’s name to Hoshea that the name Joshua was created by Moses to name the man who was to be imbued with the power of God to lead Israel into the Promised Land.
Jesus means “Yahweh saves” but such a form is not unique: the first of the minor prophets, Hosea, means “Yah saves”; Isaiah means “God saves”. We can find other instances, including Jesse and Josiah. Even Judas, from the Judah who sold Joseph, is set against Jesus by the addition of a letter at the end of the letters making up the Tetragrammaton.
The Incarnation as the Descent of the Name of YHWH
To worship YHWH was to worship his Name. The Temple was the dwelling place of his Name – 1 Kings 8:16; Deuteronomy 12:11. YHWH is even called the Name. The leading Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, is a praise of the Name of God: “Hallowed be thy Name”. The name of Jesus is: It is YHWH who saves — the lead figure in the narrative is the one who saves.
The High Priest’s function is to manifest the Name that Saves
Hence Malachi 1:11
My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord Almighty.
On the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, the day of the Great Pardon, the high priest was said to pronounce the otherwise forbidden name of YHWH in order to remove all sins from Israel. Jesus himself is modelled on the high priest — as we also read in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Citing Christian Amphoux’s La Vie de Jesus, dialogue avec Renan, Charbonnel points out that it was through Joseph that Jesus was descended from David and thus a rightful king who had the potential to replace Herod’s dynasty, while through his mother Mary Jesus was related to John the Baptist, the son of a priest. Hence Jesus had the heritage to become both a political and religious leader. As a future king, he could be seen as a threat to Rome; but if he could also be a high priest then he posed a danger to Herod and his high priest. Machine-translating Amphoux,
James, leader of Jerusalem community: 40s – c 63 Simon, leader from 71 to c 110 Jude, driven from Jerusalem in 135
The dynastic lineage of John and Jesus was well constituted: the brothers of Jesus (Mt 13:55 / Mk 6:3) bear the names of the leaders of the Jerusalem community: James, from the 40s to his death, around 63; Simon, James’ cousin, from 71 to his death around 110; and Jude, driven out of Jerusalem in 135 with the other Jews. “‘
Continuing with Amphoux, at the baptism of Jesus the portrayal of the descent of the dove involves another wordplay if there is a Hebrew source behind it. Again a machine translation:
The image of ‘the descent of the dove’ is a play on the two proper nouns of the narrative: to descend is said in Hebrew y-r-d, and the name of the Jordan comes from this verb; and the dove is y-w-n-h, which gives the name of Jonah, which is an anagram in Greek of the name John (Iôna- / Iôan-). Thus, the two proper names in the story carry a message that is taken up in the image of the dove that descends. But what does this message say? John and Jonah refer to a third name, Onias, which designates the legitimate high priest, deposed in 175 B.C.; and the descent expresses the movement from heaven to earth, by which Jesus is invested with the function of which Onias was robbed. In other words, Jesus is invested as the new legitimate high priest, who is to restore to the Temple the priesthood that has been lost for some two hundred years.
Thus Charbonnel suggests the possibility midrashic elaborations on the Name contributed to the very belief in incarnation itself. We know gematria, finding significance in numerical values of the letters of a word, was a special interest among scribes. One scholar who has delved into possibilities here is Bernard Dubourg. In the first volume of L’invention de Jésus he notes that the Hebrew words for “son” and “messiah” have the same numerical value (52) as that of YHWH when the Tetragrammaton is read with the letters themselves spelled out with their names. The Hebrew form of the name “Jesus” likewise has the same value of 52 but only through “the descent of the vowels” (as the ancient scribes would say), or through the “voice” or “the spirit that gives life” to the consonants.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
Charbonnel suggests that here we find another test of the midrashic hypothesis, given that the hypothesis leads us to expect to find clues in the text to alert readers to its midrashic interpretation. One intriguing possibility emerges when Luke’s version is translated into Hebrew:
There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
In Hebrew: zéh hou’ mélech hayehoudyim.
Now the expression ZéH Hou’ is unique in the whole of the First Testament and is found in1 Samuel 16:12, when Samuel is to designate the king of Israel as the successor of Saul . . . : Jesse sent for him: he (David) was red-haired, with a beautiful look and a beautiful face. And the Lord said, “Go, anoint him: this is he/the one” . . . For Luke, this sign declares to those who are willing to understand that Jesus is the king of the Jews designated by God, like David…
Or one can examine the possible Hebrew behind John’s description:
. . . . It read: JESUSOF NAZARETH, THE KINGOF THE JEWS.
The name of Jesus is developed from YHWH, and perhaps even the sign on the cross identified YHWH.
To establish a convincing case that the historical Jesus learned from women, McGrath could have simply started from the inarguable fact that all humans learn — i.e., “Jesus was a man; All men learn; Therefore Jesus learned” — and built from there. However, McGrath knows that a good portion of his audience will be committed Christians, and they might have an issue with the concept of a member of the trinity needing to learn anything.
The fact that a significant number of people feel discomfort with the idea of Jesus learning really ought to surprise and shock us. It is an axiom of the historic Christian faith that Jesus was fully human—a complete human being, with a human soul (or what many today might prefer to call a human mind and personality). (McGrath 2021, p. 7)
Surprise, Shock, and Astonishment
Why should it “surprise and shock” us that people “feel discomfort” with the notion that the object of their worship, a pre-existent divine being, needed to learn anything? After all, besides the article of faith (i.e., Christ’s fully human nature asserted in the Nicene Creed) alluded to above, Christians also recite this line: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.”
So I’m not surprised at all. I can understand completely someone being troubled and confused by the idea that an omniscient being might need to learn something, but McGrath is quite sure of himself. The discomforted Christian reader is terribly mistaken.
Consequently, the dear doctor of religion believes he must proceed beyond simple logic and find a convincing biblical proof text. He thinks he has found it in the Gospel of Luke, in which the evangelist tells us Jesus “grew in wisdom.” Remember the story where Jesus stays behind in the Temple and his parents don’t realize they left him there (Hieron Alone)? Many of us learned this story in Sunday School. They told us Mary and Joseph found Jesus among them, teaching the teachers. His would-be teachers were gobsmacked.
When Crates asked him whether the gods take delight in prayers and adorations, he is said to have replied, “Don’t put such a question in the street, simpleton, but when we are alone!” It is said that Bion, when he was asked the same question whether there are gods, replied: Will you not scatter the crowd from me, O much-enduring elder?
Plato has employed a variety of terms in order to make his system less intelligible to the ignorant
Again, when somebody who had a question to ask was steadily conversing with him in private, and then upon seeing a crowd approaching began to be more contentious
He would withdraw from the world and live in solitude,
he would leave his home and, telling no one, would go roaming about with whomsoever he chanced to meet.
Staff, cloak and wallet
Then he adopted the Cynic discipline, donning cloak and wallet
And he was the first, Diocles tells us, to double his cloak and be content with that one garment and to take up a staff and a wallet. Neanthes too asserts that he was the first to double his mantle. Sosicrates, however, in the third book of his Successions of Philosophers says this was first done by Diodorus of Aspendus, who also let his beard grow and used a staff and a wallet.
Diogenes (also one of several who “had nowhere to lay his head”)
He was the first, say some, to fold his cloak because he was obliged to sleep in it as well, and he carried a wallet to hold his victuals, and he used any place for any purpose, for breakfasting, sleeping, or conversing. And then he would say, pointing to the portico of Zeus and the Hall of Processions, that the Athenians had provided him with places to live in. He did not lean upon a staff until he grew infirm; but afterwards he would carry it everywhere, not indeed in the city, but when walking along the road with it and with his wallet; so say Olympiodorus,13 once a magistrate at Athens, Polyeuctus the orator, and Lysanias the son of Aeschrio. He
That famous one who carried a staff, doubled his cloak, and lived in the open air.
and he wore a very long beard and carried an ashen staff in his hand.
Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese, and coarse bread; their staff is a reed
Many called but few chosen
And hence it came about that he is not credited with a single disciple, out of all the crowds who attended his lectures.
He was returning from Olympia, and when somebody inquired whether there was a great crowd, “Yes,” he said, “a great crowd, but few who could be called men.”
And he had about him certain ragged dirty fellows, as Timon says in these lines: The while he got together a crowd of ignorant serfs, who surpassed all men in beggary and were the emptiest of townsfolk.
Zeno of Citium in his Anecdotes relates that in a fit of heedlessness he sewed a sheepskin to his cloak. He was ugly to look at, and when performing his gymnastic exercises used to be laughed at. He was accustomed to say, raising his hands, “Take heart, Crates, for it is for the good of your eyes and of the rest of your body. You will see these men, who are laughing at you, tortured before long by disease, counting you happy, and reproaching themselves for their sluggishness.”
All things in common
He was extremely selfish and insisted strongly on the maxim that “friends share in common.”
The wise are friends of the gods, and friends hold things in common. Therefore all things belong to the wise.”
He maintained that all things are the property of the wise, and employed such arguments as those cited above. All things belong to the gods. The gods are friends to the wise, and friends share all property in common; therefore all things are the property of the wise
Friendship, they declare, exists only between the wise and good, by reason of their likeness to one another. And by friendship they mean a common use of all that has to do with life, wherein we treat our friends as we should ourselves.
According to Timaeus, he was the first to say, “Friends have all things in common” and “Friendship is equality”; indeed, his disciples did put all their possessions into one common stock.
He further says that Epicurus did not think it right that their property should be held in common, as required by the maxim of Pythagoras about the goods of friends; such a practice in his opinion implied mistrust, and without confidence there is no friendship.
Some went further and taught that wives and children should also be “in common”.
Criticizes a host at dinner
Not being able to curb the extravagance of someone who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives.
With this Timaeus agrees, at the same time giving the reason why Empedocles favoured democracy, namely, that, having been invited to dine with one of the magistrates, when the dinner had gone on some time and no wine was put on the table, though the other guests kept quiet, he, becoming indignant, ordered wine to be brought.
Think of the world from which Christianity emerged and mystery religions easily come to mind. That may be a mistake. A more relevant context, influencers and rivals were the popular philosophers and their schools in the first and second centuries.
The Jew and the Christian offered religions as we understand religion; the others offered cults; but their contemporaries did not expect anything more than cults from them and looked to philosophy for guidance in conduct and for a scheme of the universe. (Nock, Conversion, 16)
Any philosophy of the time set up a standard of values different from those of the world outside and could serve as a stimulus to a stern life, and therefore to something like conversion when it came to a man living carelessly. (Nock, 173)
Further, this idea was not thought of as a matter of purely intellectual conviction. The philosopher commonly said not ‘Follow my arguments one by one: . . . but . . . Believe me, those who express the other view deceive you and argue you out of what is right.’ (Nock, 181)
A mystery evoked a strong emotional response and touched the soul deeply for a time, but [conversion to] philosophy was able both to turn men from evil and to hold before them a good, perhaps never to be attained, but presenting a permanent object of desire to which one seemed to draw gradually nearer. (Nock, 185)
As an introduction to the view that popular philosophers had a more profound role than mystery cults in shaping Christianity, I’ve distilled biographical details from one ancient biographer of those philosophers. Spot the similarities to what we read about Jesus and Paul.
Socrates met Xenophon in a narrow passage way and accosted him with questions. Xenophon was confused, so Socrates told him, “Follow me and learn”, and from that moment on Xenophon became his disciple.
Someone came to Diogenes and asked him to tell him how to live, what do do …. Diogenes told him to “follow him”. Unfortunately Diogenes also imposed a humbling condition on the would-be follower who was too embarrassed to comply.
Now the way he came across Crates was this. He was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Peiraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates passed by in the nick of time, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, “Follow yonder man.” From that day he became Crates’s pupil.
Ethical Teachings and Example, a Physician of Souls
“I know how to submit to injustice and you do not.”
The tale is also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was doing and received the answer: “He is humbling the proud and exalting the humble.”
Not to abuse our neighbours
Do not use threats to any one.
When strong, be merciful.
Let not your tongue outrun your thought. Control anger.
Mercy is better than vengeance
Speak no ill of a friend, nor even of an enemy
we should render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a friend of him.
He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him,
The sick need the physician, not the well
When Dionysius inquired what was the reason that philosophers go to rich men’s houses, while rich men no longer visit philosophers, his reply was that “the one know what they need while the other do not.”
In answer to one who remarked that he always saw philosophers at rich men’s doors, he said, “So, too, physicians are in attendance on those who are sick, but no one for that reason would prefer being sick to being a physician.”
Dionysius was offended and made him recline at the end of the table. And Aristippus said, “You must have wished to confer distinction on the last place.”
And conversing upon the duty of doing good to men he made such an impression on the king that he became eager to hear him.
If Phoebus did not cause Plato to be born in Greece, how came it that he healed the minds of men by letters? As the god’s son Asclepius is a healer of the body, so is Plato of the immortal soul.
He used repeatedly to say that to grant favours to another was preferable to enjoying the favours of others.
The road to Hades, he used to say, was easy to travel.
To the question how we should behave to friends, he answered, “As we should wish them to behave to us.”
“It is a royal privilege to do good and be ill spoken of.”
When a friend complained to him that he had lost his notes, “You should have inscribed them,” said he, “on your mind instead of on paper.” As iron is eaten away by rust, so, said he, the envious are consumed by their own passion. Those who would fain be immortal must, he declared, live piously and justly.
“Many men praise you,” said one. “Why, what wrong have I done?” was his rejoinder
The love of money he declared to be mother-city of all evils.
Good men he called images of the gods
all things are the property of the wise
A Rhodian, who was handsome and rich, but nothing more, insisted on joining his class. but so unwelcome was this pupil, that first of all Zeno made him sit on the benches that were dusty, that he might soil his cloak, and then he consigned him to the place where the beggars sat, that he might rub shoulders with their rags. So at last the young man went away.
This man adopts a new philosophy. He teaches to go hungry: yet he gets Disciples.
Afterwards when the poet apologized for the insult, he accepted the apology, saying that, when Dionysus and Heracles were ridiculed by the poets without getting angry, it would be absurd for him to be annoyed at casual abuse.
Pythagoras made many into good men and true
He carried deference to others to such excess that he did not even enter public life.
He showed dauntless courage in meeting troubles and death
He would punish neither slave nor free man in anger. Admonition he used to call “setting right.”
Not to call the gods to witness, man’s duty being rather to strive to make his own word carry conviction
God takes thought for man
In storm at sea
He was once on a voyage with some impious men; and, when a storm was encountered, even they began to call upon the gods for help. “Peace!” said he, “lest they hear and become aware that you are here in the ship.”
It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, “We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?” To this he replied, “The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable.”
When his fellow passengers on board a ship were all unnerved by a storm, he kept calm and confident, pointing to a little pig in the ship that went on eating, and telling them that such was the unperturbed state in which the wise man should keep himself.
Divinely called, taught God’s truths, believed to be Divine
Dr. James McGrath wrote a new book. If you read his blog, you already knew that. I, on the other hand, was blessedly ignorant of that fact until Neil recently told me. And, like any curious person, I can’t help but rubberneck as I slowly drive past a traffic accident. In much the same way, although I knew it would be painful, I started reading What Jesus Learned from Women.
But now here’s an unexpected blast from the past: McGrath is convinced by Maurice Casey’s nonargument about the pronunciation of talitha koum (ταλιθα κούμ) in Mark 5:41, as proof of the historicity of Jesus in general and the raising of Jairus’s daughter in particular. I had no idea any serious person thought Casey was making a cogent historical argument. However, each day brings new surprises and wonders.
Our manuscripts differ in the spelling, and that difference is one of the reasons that some historians [sic] feel particularly confident about there being a historical core to this story. (McGrath 2021, p. 219)
By historians, McGrath actually means “theologians who know ancient languages and call themselves historians.” And among that group of self-confident theologians who know ancient languages, Casey was unmatched. I called Casey’s pronouncement a nonargument because it contains a single premise followed by a dogmatic conclusion. Here it is from Jesus of Nazareth:
The first two words, Talitha koum, are Aramaic for ‘little girl, get up’, so Mark has correctly translated them into Greek for his Greek-speaking audiences, adding the explicitative comment ‘I tell you’, as translators sometimes do. Moreover, I have followed the reading of the oldest and best manuscripts. The majority of manuscripts read the technically correct written feminine form koumi, but there is good reason to believe that the feminine ending ‘i’ was not pronounced. It follows that Talitha koum is exactly what Jesus said. (Casey 2011, p. 109, bold emphasis mine)
Surely Casey has missed a step or two. To start with, what is this “good reason” that convinced the dear doctor — and which seems to have captivated McGrath as well? Well, we do have a hint in the form of a footnote, in which Casey cites himself from an earlier article (in JSNT 25.1, 2002) in which he defended himself from an “attack” by Paul Owen and David Shepherd. (Recall that any questioning of Casey’s authority was always viewed as an attack.) These scholars had dared to question Casey’s “solution” to the Son-of-Man problem. Casey chastised them, Joseph Fitzmyer, and any other scholar who avoided using later inscriptions and manuscripts (i.e., well after the supposed time of Jesus) calling it “a quite catastrophic and unjustifiable loss.” Casey rarely did anything halfway. Continue reading “McGrath, Casey, and “Good Reasons” to Believe”
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.
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)
Droge offers two criteria for identifying interpolations:
significant differences in language, style, and subject matter.
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)
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”.
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.
An examination of the claim that “Paul refers to his teachings that Jesus made during in his earthly ministry, on divorce . . .”
External facts / context related to interpretation
1 Corinthians 7:10-11
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 1 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
Paul is recollecting the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:9-12 and Luke 16:18 that others had passed on to him. (“Paul cites Apostolic, Jewish-Christian tradition as his source of authority.” (Tomson, 117))
… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Paul insisted he learned nothing from others about the gospel of Jesus
Galatians 1:11-12; 2:6
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
. . . As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.
One wonders if it was possible that this rudimentary principle, which is alien to ancient society but was recognized by the whole of primitive Christianity, should have remained unknown in Corinth. At all events it is expressed in such a way that it sounds as if Paul was making it known for the first time. (Conzelmann, 120)
Baur has objected that if Paul had meant to cite a positive command of the Lord, he must have used the pastπαρήγγειλεν (He commanded), and not the present. . . . No doubt it might also be that the apostle meant to say he had received this command by revelation (Godet, 332f)
Paul omits the limitation put by the Lord on the command not to separate: “unless it be for adultery.” (Godet, 333)
Thus Paul not only corrects himself, but knowingly cites Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and passes it on in indirect discourse to married believers in an absolute, unqualified form, as coming from the risen Christ. Cf. 14:37, “a commandment of the Lord. (Fitzmyer, 292)
What can be said as to which of the Gospel traditions is closest to the Pauline formulation? There is hardly any agreement between the various discussions of this question. . . . the question as to which of the various Synoptic formulations seems presupposed by Paul’s formulation must be left open. (Dungan, 133-134)
Paul makes no attempt to cite the words of the historical Jesus (Collins, 269)
[Elsewhere when delivering moral teachings] Paul … characteristically gives no indication that he is aware that he is using the language of Jesus, or acting in obedience to his precepts (Barrett, 112)
The context of I Cor 7:10 (vv 1-9) suggest Paul is addressing couples who are challenged by one party wishing to become an ascetic (an issue found frequently in second-century sources) so the situation is different from the divorce sayings in the gospels:
Paul’s specific references to the teaching of Jesus are notoriously few. . . Paul is dealing (perhaps not exclusively) with marriages that are threatened by an ascetic view of sexual relations. (Barrett, 162f)
Others think that the question of a possible divorce has arisen in Roman Corinth because some Christian spouses there were already abstaining from intercourse for ascetic reasons (Fitzmyer, 291)
It is undeniable that Paul felt sympathetic to the ideal proposed by the ascetics, but he could not permit it to be imposed as a general rule. (Murphy-O’Connor, 605)
Doubts against the historicity of the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:9-12 —
The arguments against authenticity are: the Markan version reflects the situation of the early community; the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some teaching to its own context; the appeal to scripture in vv. 6-7 is not characteristic of Jesus but reflects the Christian use of the Greek Bible; familiarity with Roman rather than Israelite marriage law in vv. 11-12 indicates a later, gentile context. Further, the roles of Jesus and the Pharisees seem reversed: here the Pharisees view the Mosaic law as permitting divorce, whereas Jesus cites the scripture in support of a more stringent view. (Funk, 88f)
and in Luke 16:18 —
Matthew adds infidelity as the one exception to the absolute rule on divorce. A different version is found in Mark 10:2-12//Matt 19:3-9, in which divorce is made contrary to God’s order in creation (‘What God has coupled together, no one should separate’). The confusion in the transmission of the tradition led many Fellows to designate this saying in Luke as gray [=”Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his own”] or black [=”Jesus did not say this. The saying comes from a later time”]. The confusion in the jesus tradition is matched by confusion in the lore of the period. (Funk, 360)
The above are not intended to suggest they are the only factors to be considered. Some of the sources quoted above attempt to answer the negative considerations I have cited. Example, in response to Baur’s point about the past tense, Godet writes,
But the command of Jesus is regarded as abiding for the Church throughout all time. (Godet, 332)
Opposed to the arguments against authenticity, Funk et al first lists those “for”:
The arguments in favor of authenticity are: remarks on the subject by Jesus are preserved in two or more independent sources and in two or more different contexts; an injunction difficult for the early community to practice is evidence of a more original version; Jesus’ response is in the form of an aphorism that undercuts social and religious convention. Further, the Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time, which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of women. (Funk, 88)
It’s an interesting question, the source of Paul’s appeal to “the command of the Lord” here. As one commentator remarks with some puzzlement, Paul only cites the command to offer a contradiction to it — accepting the possibility of divorce anyway. (The word “separation” is said to be used often enough for “divorce”.) The rationale of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for forbidding divorce is an appeal to Genesis and creation — the same rationale we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some commentators say that Paul is appealing to Jesus’ command this time because he knows he is contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is also pointed out that the Scriptures themselves are contradictory: God hates divorce, he says through his prophets, but through Moses he permits it. Should we see here in this section of 1 Corinthians another allusion to the author presenting himself as a prophet of God, as another Moses, even — declaring the law of God but at the same time acknowledging some flexibility, as per the Old Covenant?
Re: “teachings that Jesus made during his earthly ministry, . . . on preachers and on the coming apocalypse”
Continuing in the next post.
Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black, 1971.
Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul; Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Fortress Press, 1971. http://archive.org/details/sayingsofjesusin00dung.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary. New York: Polebridge Press, 1993.
Godet, Frédéric. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by A. Cusin. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonstpa01godeuoft.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 601–6. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266121.
Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Tomson, Peter. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Netherlands: Brill, 1991.
The point of this post is to demonstrate how easy it is to read documents from the perspective of commonly accepted knowledge and mistakenly misread them, thinking they say what we have always assumed they say, and to fail to register that the original texts are not quite as clear in their meaning — nor even as assuredly “authentic” — as we have always assumed.
A historian needs to work with facts to have any chance of proposing a narrative or hypothesis that is going to stand up to scrutiny. The facts lie in the sources we use. But sources must be interpreted and it is easy to read into a source what we think it must be saying.
The key point here is that … Paul’s letters … do contain references that indicate Paul understood Jesus to have been a recent, historical, and earthly human being who was elevated to higher status after his death.
External facts / context related to interpretation
In Romans we read it said that the revelation about Jesus is recent; it is the revelation of Jesus that happened in Paul’s time.
the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God
The things revealed in that revelation happened “now”, “very recently”.
1 Peter 1:18-20
… you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Belief in the recency of an event does not support its historical truth: Examples…
Ancient writings inform us that the ancients also believed gods and goddesses (sometimes in human form) were periodically seen by sundry eyewitnesses and not only in a mythical time.
The second-century author Lucian wrote a biography of his teacher, Demonax, whom many readers have subsequently assumed — wrongly — to have been a historical figure.
Ned Ludd was understood to have been a recent figure, if not a contemporary, of protestors in eighteenth-century England.
External facts / context related to interpretation
No historical context is found for Jesus in Paul’s letters except for:
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
in Judea … those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.
but scholars are not agreed that this passage is genuinely from Paul so it is not a secure base from which to make a point about Paul’s thought. See https://vridar.org/tag/1-thessalonians-213-16/ for the scholars’ reasons for interpolation.
1 Timothy 6:13
Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession
Overwhelmingly critical scholars agree that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul.
When the 1 Thessalonians 2 passage is cited, since not all scholars agree it is an interpolation, it is thought sufficient to casually dismiss the interpolation thesis as unlikely.
More generally, the simple fact that Paul wrote of the Christ event as reality is taken as proof that there was a historical person behind it.
Ancient historians, like modern historians, sometimes wrote about persons and events they believed to be historical but in fact weren’t.
External facts / context related to interpretation
As above; additionally…
1 Corinthians 2:8
… the rulers of this age … crucified the Lord of glory.
Also “born of woman” — see below
Events imagined to have happened on earth are presumably historical.
“Rulers of this age” are assumed to have been the rulers of Judea and Rome we read about in the gospels who were responsible for the crucifixion.
Until Earl Doherty in the 1990s advanced his thesis that Paul believed “the Christ event” occurred entirely in a “heavenly realm”, albeit a sublunar one, the Christ myth idea generally understood Paul’s letters to speak of birth, life and death of Jesus on earth. Apart from a very early view that the entire gospel story was fleshed out from astrological beliefs, the only exception that I am aware of is the view of Paul-Louis Couchoud who anticipated Doherty’s views, though Doherty’s thesis was his own. Richard Carrier has further elaborated and popularized Doherty’s entirely “celestial Christ”. Such has been the success of the Doherty-Carrier Christ myth view that among some quarters it has become equated with the Christ Myth theory itself and it appears that some critics are unaware that there is an alternative. However, most Christ myth views over the decades have accepted Paul’s view of Jesus as an earthly human. The Christ myth thesis certainly does not stand or fall upon the thoroughly “celestial Christ” view of Doherty-Carrier. The “celestial Christ” hypothesis is not the foundation or reason Doherty became sceptical of the historicity of Jesus. Carrier raises many problems with the historicity thesis that stand apart from the “celestial Christ” idea.
*My own view of the question is different from above. I point out opposing arguments when I think they are unfairly ignored.
The “again” in the title harks back to another time I responded point by point to Tim O’Neill’s erroneous declarations: Bad History for Atheists#1, #2, #3, #4
Continuing here to respond to the youtube presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_hD3xK4hRY — previous posts: #1 (wrongly saying it pays academics to find “different” and “new” or “contrarian” arguments), and #2 (wrongly saying historians can do nothing more than assess probabilities, not determine facts, about the ancient past)
After further saying that non-Christian (including “Jewish”) and Christian scholars have very different ideas about the historical Jesus (which is simply flat wrong, as I might show in a later post) in order to supposedly demonstrate that Christian influence is not a factor (again, which is flat wrong as can be easily demonstrated – but for a later post), and after conditioning the listener to think of “mythicists” as following attractive bait in defiance of common sense (ad hominem, well-poisoning), O’Neill says,
To begin with, all accounts or references to the origins of Christianity both Christian and non-Christian, say it began with him. And none of them describe him as anything other than a historical human being even if some of them — the Christian ones most obviously — say he was much more than just a human.
Here are a good number of those ancient accounts and references with the ones saying he is “anything other than” a historical human being:
Account or reference
Saying Jesus was nothing more than a historical human
New Testament letters (Paul, pseudo-Paul, Catholic, Pastoral and Johannine)
Extra canonical letters (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp)
New Testament Gospels and Acts
Extra canonical Gospels and Acts (Thomas, Peter, Paul….)
Revelation and other apocalypses
nil (but many, not all, scholars hypothesize that Josephus did say he was only a man; arguments against authenticity)
(late evidence reporting what was learned from early Christians — not used by historical Jesus scholars because “too late”; arguments against authenticity)
Pliny the Younger
nil (not used by HJ scholars; says christ was worshiped as a god; several arguments against authenticity)
O’Neill argues that some of the above do present an entirely human Jesus behind the myth and I will respond to his claims as we come to them.
The mythicist . . . has to explain why they all depict him as historical and human with no traces of any earlier alternatives which have him as, say, purely mythic, allegorical or celestial.
Interesting. I am still waiting to hear O’Neill indicate which ones he means among the “all depict Jesus as historical and human with no traces of earlier … myth…”
O’Neill underscores his point:
there are elements in the early christian accounts of him that strongly indicate a historical person — that are very difficult to interpret any other way.
My curiosity is being whetted. Can’t wait to hear which sources these are “very difficult” to interpret as a merely human Jesus.
Before answering, O’Neill offers an interesting justification for using the Biblical gospels and letters:
The historian can and should examine them in the way that they examine any other source relevant to the question at hand in the examination of ancient history.
One thing otherhistorians have noted, and that I certainly have commented on often enough here, is that biblical scholars only rarely study the gospels “in the way that ‘they’ examine any other source”. The narratives in the gospels are assumed — without confirmation of independent external confirmation — to be based on a real biography. The sources are assumed to have been primarily oral tradition. The authors are assumed to have been interested in telling the truth as they understood it about Jesus, diligently incorporating genuine “historical” material as they could. As far as I have been aware over many years of wide reading and study, I don’t know of any relevant scholarly study of ancient documents (or medieval or modern ones) that begins and ends with such uncritical assumptions.
If the previous post was a repeat at least let me try to say something new with this one. I concluded the previous post with Joshua Efron’s final words on his case for the James passage being an interpolation:
External evidence thus complements and strengthens the findings of internal criticism. This passage is an insertion, and by its contents and style can only be a Christian interpolation. (336)
I did not quote the footnote Efron appends to that conclusion. Here it is:
Josephus obviously totally disregarded the young Christian congregations in their first stages of development, despite his extensive detailed descriptions of the period before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Great Revolt. As a historian and writer addressing non-Jewish readers, defending Judaism and aspiring to gain appreciation for it, he preferred to delete sensitive, inconvenient manifestations likely to arouse a negative reaction and controversy. The three “Christian” passages — the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of his brother James and John the Baptist’s death — are exceptional in spirit as well as in their artificial contextual interpolation. Similarly Josephus’ contemporary and rival, Justus of Tiberias, author of a Jewish history in Greek, who did not however renounce his people, made not the slightest mention of Jesus or the miracles he wrought, as noted in Byzantine Christian testimony of Photius, Bibliotheca, Codex 33, PG 103; Photius, Bibliothèque, ed. R. Henry, vol. 1 (Collection Bude-Paris 1959), p. 18f: τής Χρίστου παρουσίας και των περί αυτόν τελεσβέντων καί τών ύπ’ αύτοΰ τερατουργηθέντων ούδέν δλως μνήμην έποιήσατο. See also Τ. Rajak, “Justus of Tiberias,” CIQ 23 (1973): 345 ff. Philo’s complete silence is equally significant. (336f)
In Efron’s earlier outline of the gospel narratives about Jesus (319-324) it is very clear that he considers the entire story an ahistorical, anti-semitic theological drama through and through. In that context one’s eyebrow might be felt to raise just a little at the above footnote. I might be quite wrong, of course, so am very willing to retract this post if necessary.
Efron, Joshua. Studies on the Hasmonean Period. Leiden; New York: Brill, 1987.
A Jewish scholar, Joshua Efron, believes that the entire “stoning of James” passage — yes, that James who is said to be “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” — in Josephus is a Christian forgery.
Now Efron does get under the skin of a fewscholars when he argues with a sometimes abrasive style contrarian views relating to the Hasmonean period of Jewish history, Christian influence in the Pseudepigrapha and views on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I have not read a rebuttal of his arguments about the existence, function and character of the Sanhedrin in the Second Temple period. I would be interested in doing so. Josephan scholar Louis Feldman acknowledges Efron’s “enormous learning”.
Of the New Testament references to the Jewish Sanhedrin Efron writes:
The New Testament Synedrion (Sanhedrin) was created in the bosom of Christian theology, nurtured by its characteristic tenets and trends in order to provide a concrete, albeit artificial representation of Jewish leadership that denies and contemns the wondrous heavenly savior. (337f)
Efron’s detailed survey of the evidence and all references to the word translated “sanhedrin” that the common image we have of a supreme ruling Sadducee body at the time of Second Temple Judaism is an anachronistic myth:
It is not purely terminological details but facts that prove the non-existence of the Great Sanhedrin at the end of the Second Temple period. Here Josephus appointed at his side in Galilee a high council of seventy in exercising his authority to judge criminal cases, and the zealots in Jerusalem set up a tribunal of seventy for capital cases. In these two salient cases there is no indication of any coordination or contact or of conflict with the sacred rights of the Great Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones which alone was supposed to have seventy members. A Gerousia of the Jewish community of Alexandria, mentioned by both Philo and Josephus, had “seventy elders” in it according to the talmudic legend, with no reference at all to the supreme institution in Jerusalem. All these testimonies lead to the solid conclusion that from the time of the Return to Zion up to the destruction of the Second Temple there were representative, administrative, public bodies, intermittently appearing and disappearing as Gerousia, and Synedrion and Boule, but they were never identifiable with the talmudic Great Sanhedrin at the head of the judicial system that defines the law and disseminates the Torah among the people of Israel. (318)
With that background perspective, read again about the stoning of James in Josephus’s Antiquities. I have set Efron’s paraphrase alongside the Whiston translation. The sentences in italics are Efron’s introductory and concluding commentaries on the scene.
Josephus: Antiquities 20.9.1 (20:197-203)
Efron’s paraphrase of Josephus: Studies, p. 334
AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests.
The second passage pictures an evil, harsh Sanhedrin, very similar to the one in the New Testament.
But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges,
The younger Ananus (or Annas), the high priest, son of the elder Ananus, was extremely bold and brazen, belonged to the Sadducees, who were severe (“savage”) in trial more than any Jews, took advantage of Festus’ death and before the arrival of the new procurator Albinus, “seated a Synedriort (Sanhedrin) of judges,”
and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:
brought to trial James the brother of Jesus, “called the Messiah (Christ),” and also “certain others,” accused them of violating the law “and delivered them to be stoned.”
but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified;
However, circles among the residents of the capital considered “the most fair-minded and most strictly law-abiding” did not wish to tolerate such an injustice and applied secretly to King Agrippa to obtain his order preventing such deeds, for Ananus did not act properly to begin with.
nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent.
Some of them set out to meet Albinus and explained that Ananus did not have the authority “to seat a Sanhedrin” without the procurator’s consent.
Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
“Albinus was convinced” and angrily wrote an irate and threatening letter to Ananus. That is why Agrippa also took the high priestly crown away from him.
So ends the episode, which at first glance seems free of weaknesses and faults. And yet a careful examination collapses this naive testimony.
Here is the final post discussing the introductory chapter of Rivka Nir’s The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist where she sets out her case for the John the Baptist passage in the writings of Josephus being a forgery.
For readers with so little time, the TL;DR version:
The baptism of John that is described in Josephus’s Antiquities is shown to be significantly different from Jewish Pharisaic baptism (Pharisee baptism was for ritual cleansing of the body independently from any call for moral purity; the Josephan John’s baptism was for bodily purity but required moral purity as a precondition);
It is also significantly different from the baptism attributed to the Essenes (and the hermit Bannus) by Josephus — for the same type of reason it was different from the Pharisee baptism);
That baptism of John appears instead to be very like baptism we read about among Jewish sectarians as in the Qumran scrolls and the Fourth Sibylline Oracle (moral purity was a precondition for the bodily sanctification effected by baptism);
That same type of baptism we read about in the Dead Sea scrolls and Fourth Sibylline continues to appear among early Jewish Christian sects as witnessed in the Pseudo-Clementines (moral purity a precondition for bodily purification) — the early Christian baptism appears therefore to have emerged from the Jewish sectarians;
The Josephan passage is polemical, apparently attacking what we associate with the orthodox Christian Pauline baptism that was a ritual performed to effect the forgiveness of sins and new spiritual life. (The Pauline and gospel baptism — especially as in the Gospel of Matthew — has nothing to do with physical purity.)
Origen appears to have not known of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus but we first read of awareness of it in Eusebius. We can conclude that the passage was inserted by a member of one of the early Jewish-Christian sects late third or early fourth century.
To refresh your memory, here again is the Josephan passage with the description of his baptism highlighted:
But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, called the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness. When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation, and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus. the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod (Ant. 18.116-19).
Not a Jewish Pharisaic Baptism
Nir sets aside any possibility that the account of John’s baptism as quoted above could be a typical Jewish Pharisee baptism of the time. The Pharisaic baptism, she explains, was entirely for the purpose of cleansing the body from ritual impurities — from contact with a corpse, skin diseases, bodily discharges, and such. It had nothing to do with moral purity or righteous behaviour. To achieve forgiveness for spiritual sins one had the sacrificial cult of the Temple.
What about those passages in the Prophets that speak about washing away sins? One of many examples:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1:16-20)
Some scholars have speculated that such passages were interpreted by some Jews of the day as the basis of a new baptismal ritual, one that requires repentance and spiritual purity before being immersed in water:
The similarity between the initial immersion of the Qumran community and John’s immersion probably stems from a common use of the book of Isaiah. Thus, the idea that one could be made clean in body only if one was pure in heart is probably to be derived from an interpretation of the book of Isaiah that was current among several groups in Second Temple Judaism. (Taylor, The Immerser, 88)
Such passages as these attest the early association between physical and moral purification, such as meets us in the Johannine baptism. And the ideas are close. Whoever invented the epigram “ Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” it is a fair summary of Pharisaic conceptions on the subject under discussion. (Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism, 41)
Entirely speculative and contrary to the extant evidence, replies Nir. Jewish Pharisaic baptism was for the purification of the body “from natural and unavoidable states of impurity, such as contact with a corpse”. It was not “conditioned on inner moral repentance or spiritual purification.” (p. 53) The passages in Isaiah, the Psalms, Ezekiel, Jeremiah speaking of being cleansed or washed from sins are figurative. (I would add that such passages, if interpreted as the basis of a baptism ritual, would be more likely to prompt a baptism that is contrary to the one described in Josephus’s Antiquities because those passages speak of “washing away sins”, being “cleansed from sin” — as if the washing itself performs the moral purification.)
Yes, Philo did compare physical impurity with moral impurity, but at the same time he recognized the place of sacrifices in moral cleansing.
What of the Essenes and that hermit mentioned by Josephus, Bannus?
Rivka Nir does not assume the Essenes are to be identified as the group responsible for the Qumran practices. Essenes as described by Josephus are kept separate from the group known through the Qumran scrolls.
In War 2.119-61, Josephus describes the immersions of the Essenes. They bathed in cold water (άπολούοντοα τό σώμα ψυχροΐς ϋδασιν) for ‘purification’ (εις άγνείαν), and would wash themselves before meals (129), following defecation (149), or contact with a Gentile or person of inferior status in the sect (150). About Bannus, an ascetic hermit who lived in the wilderness, Josephus recounts that he would wash himself frequently in cold water, by day and night, for purity’s sake (λουόμενον πρός άγνείαν, Life 2.11) (Nir, 55)
In response to a view found in some quarters that the Essenes’ baptism replaced the sacrificial cult, Nir explains at some length with multiple citations why such a view is based on a misreading of the original script of Josephus.
It has nothing to do with prior repentance or moral and spiritual purification: its administration requires no preaching or urging; it is no collective mass baptism and does not constitute an initiation rite into some elect group. Furthermore, the Essene and Bannus immersions were not a substitute for the sacrificial cult.
It may not be an “orthodox” Jewish baptism of the era, but Rivka Nir does see an overlap between the Josephan account and what we read in the Qumran scrolls. The key text is the Community Rule (dated by orthography and paleography between 100 BCE and 50 CE).
A Jewish-Christian Baptism
Rivka Nir’s argument is that Jewish sectarian baptisms stressing moral purity as a condition for ritually cleansing the body by immersion existed side by side early Jewish-Christian sects in opposition to the Christian baptism known to us from the Pauline tradition.
We start with the evidence for Jewish sects having a baptism in parallel with what we read about John’s in Josephus.
In the Community Rule 1QS 2.26-3.12 we see the same type of baptism that Josephus depicts for John — ritual cleansing of immersion into water is effective if one is first repentant:
And anyone who declines to enter the covenant of God in order to walk in the stubbornness of his heart shall not enter the community of his truth … For it is by the spirit of the true counsel of God that are atoned the paths of man, all his iniquities, so that he can look at the light of life. And it is by the holy spirit of the community , in its truth, that he is cleansed of all his iniquities. And by the spirit of uprightness and of humility his sin is atoned. And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters and being made holy with the waters of repentance. May he, then, steady his steps in order to walk with perfection on all lhe paths of God, as he has decreed concerning the appointed times of his assemblies and not turn aside, either right or left nor infringe even one of all his words. In this way he will be admitted by means of atonement pleasing to God, and for him it will be the covenant of an everlasting Community.
Also as with the Josephan baptism of John we see the effect at a community level.
At Qumran, as in John’s baptism, justice (righteousness) was the means to purification and expiation of sins . . . And like John’s baptism, the Qumran baptism appears to have been one of the conditions for admission to the congregation: and it was similarly a collective baptism and a substitute for the sacrificial cult. (Nir, 60)
Parallelomania — the term has been too often misunderstood and misapplied to serious work that deserves attention. On the other hand, there are a lot of proposed parallels that are, let’s say, eccentric. How to tell the difference?
I’ll use Michael Goulder’s explanation of what makes a meaningful parallel and in subsequent posts address how to identify a misleading parallel. (Some of us will be thinking of Samuel Sandmel’s famous article, Parallelomania. I made a link to that article available here because very often I have found people, including some professional scholars, misunderstanding what he wrote. Or perhaps they never read it carefully to begin with. In this post, however, we give Goulder a turn to speak.)
In Type and History in Acts Goulder is discussing typology which is a particular type of parallel. The key question of interest is,
What is in question is whether it is possible to assert that a type [or parallel] is understood by a New Testament author when the details of the story do not make it quite so obvious, and the type-antitype connection is much less real, or to modem eyes not real at all. (p. 2)
Nonsense, replies the critic
For Goulder, the answer is relatively simple.
Much criticism could be dispelled if it were realized that almost all typology is cumulative. The typologist may assert, for example, that the sermon on the mount is the antitype of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Nonsense, replies the critic, there is no evidence of this: there are plenty of mountains in Galilee, and Jesus climbed one to instruct his disciples — that is all. (p. 2)
Here’s how Goulder justifies the view that the evangelist deliberately created a parallel between the Sermon on the Mount and the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai. . .
It’s Cumulative all the way down
Okay, we read Jesus went up on a mountainside to give his sermon. Nothing to see here, the “parallel” critic says. And the critic is right. So far.
But then we must recall that a very few chapters earlier we read the story of a Herod massacring all the infant boys in Bethlehem and few of us could deny that that little episode did bring to mind the Exodus account of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s edict to massacre newborn Israelite boys. Obviously there are many differences between the two tales but we cannot deny that there are core similarities.
Jesus is not saved by being put in an ark
fear inspires the tyrant
then floated on the river Jordan
future saviour of Israel is delivered
and finally adopted by Herod’s daughter
If I can interrupt to add to Goulder’s discussion here: I suspect that if one had the two texts side by side one could itemize a list of differences that would be much longer than a list of similarities. Some critics reject proposed parallels on the basis that they can count more details of difference than they can of similarity. But what is surely important is the predominant theme or ideas in the stories and the idea of a miraculous saving of an infant saviour from a tyrant attempting to kill all and sundry in hopes of getting his babe must outweigh dozens or even scores of background, decorative, setting and scenery details. (Further, some critics dismiss parallels solely in the basis of a single obvious difference (many reject the Heracles-Jesus parallels solely on the basis that Jesus was not a “strong man” hero despite the many and often explicit similarities ancient authors made between Heracles and other Jesus-comparable figures like Socrates), but the “difference” game can logically come to a point where we say that nothing can be derivative of another unless it is the same in all points. But then, of course, we have the same thing again and not an analogue at all.) Back to Goulder…
Might we not simply say that the massacre stories are alike by coincidence? Yes, indeed. That is possible. An author may be aware of only a limited number of that type of legendary narrative and his imagination might not grant him access to many new ideas.
But while reading Matthew we find that just before Herod’s murderous rampage gets underway Jesus is taken down to Egypt by his parents, Joseph and Mary. Are we allowed to let our minds wander and recall that preceding Pharaoh’s massacre of the infants in the book of Exodus Joseph took his family down to Egypt — in the final chapters of Genesis. Continue reading “Parallels — How to tell if they are “Real””