2007-01-14

Gospel of Peter and the Slavonic Josephus

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by Neil Godfrey

Given that the Slavonic Josephus appeared around the 11th or 12th centuries and without any known links to other church documents, what follows can be little more than speculation of course.

Two noteworthy features of The Gospel of Peter (link is to table of gospel comparisons) are:

  • it is Herod who is responsible for crucifying Jesus (albeit with Pilate’s acquiescence)
  • there appears to be no room for a Judas betrayal since all 12 disciples are portrayed as mourning together after the crucifixion

Justin Martyr (link is to table of gospel narrative comparisons) of around 150 c.e. is interesting for appearing to know only the same gospel narratives:

  • Herod and the Jews crucify Jesus “under Pilate (see Dialogue with Trypho 32, 85, 104 and the First Apology 13)
  • He always speaks of the 12 as a constant unified band without any hint of a Judas (See Dialogue with Trypho 42, 53, 106 and First Apology 39 and 50)

The interesting connection of these early accounts with the Testimonium Flavianum in the Slavonic Josephus (scroll to section IV) is that here is provided a narrative explanation for these unusual depaertures from the canonical versions:

  • Pilate, on finding Jesus innocent, releases him — an action that so offends the Jewish leaders that they bribe Pilate with 30 talents to allow them (the Jews) to execute Jesus
  • This bribing of Pilate with 30 talents removes any room for a Judas betrayal (for 30 pieces of silver) since it is Pilate who (in weakness and against his better judgment) betrays Jesus for 30 talents to the Jewish leaders, not Judas.

If, as seems likely, the Slavonic Josephus insertions derive from eastern christians removed from western orthodox controls, and this is the same area where the Gospel of Peter remained popular for many years, is it possible that we have in the Slavonic Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum a missing portion of the Gospel of Peter narrative?

Neil


2006-12-19

Questions, — dialogues?

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by Neil Godfrey

What came first? Jerusalem or Galilee? (I’m not interested in the “contradictions” question as such but in the question from a “dialogue” perspective — what are the different theological debates presumably underlying these variations?)

Justin Martyr says that the resurrected Jesus instituted the eucharist, church orders, etc to his disciples in Jerusalem and from there they went out to the whole world preaching to the gentiles — just prior to the destruction of that city by the Romans. There is no hint of a Judas or an 11. 12 is the assumed number throughout.

Mark appears to say that the resurrected Jesus told his disicples to meet him in Galilee but they presumably stayed in Jerusalem (after having had the eucharist given them before his death, not after his resurrection)

Matthew has the disciples going to Galilee to meet Jesus and there the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples (even those who doubted?) to think back and remember what he taught them before his death and go out to the world preaching and converting.

John seems to have two endings: the first one has the resurrected Jesus deliver a commission to his disciples in Jerusalem; the second has him doing something similar in Galilee. (Not from Matthew’s mountain, however, but from a lakeside — c.f. Matthew’s Sermon on Mount with Luke’s Sermon on Plain??) Was this second a later editorial hand or was it the one author deliberately placing in apposition two traditions?

Luke has the Justin Martyr view but, if we regard him as the same author who wrote Acts, with a time delay built in to the time when Jerusaelem was destroyed.

Acts also has Jesus commanding his 11, then 12, to go out from Jerusalem throughout the world, but in the course of the narrative there is no real depiction of them doing this. One has to find ways of reconciling this command to the 12 with the activity of Paul while the 12 appear left in Jerusalem so much of the time.

The Nag Hammadi texts also reflect the different scenarios: scenes of Jesus in Galilee and scenes of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Does any of this relate to the Transiguration scene in Matthew, Mark and Luke being on a Galilee mountain?

Surely this question has been addressed in the literature. Damn not living near a major university library with the appropriate collection! What leads are there in the literature to follow up questions about the origins of these variant Galilee/Jerusalem traditions.

I know of works like Weeden’s and Kelber’s that argue Jerusalem is the place of the old and fading kingdom and Galilee represent the new (multi-racial) kingdom — but how does such a view explain the persistence of the Jerusalem trad for so long, even though to the “final” gospel, Luke, and repeated by Justin Martyr as if there is no alternative?

Help, someone, please! More questions to occupy me in the night and shopping queues….

Neil


2006-12-11

Gospel of Mark and Gnostic Gospels compared. 1

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by Neil Godfrey

As I continue to read Majella Franzmann’s Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Writings it is interesting to reflect how the distinctive themes of the gnostic texts overlap with themes of the strongest interest among scholars of the Gospel of Mark.

Markan scholarship is signposted by such studies as Wrede’s The Messianic Secret and Weeden’s Mark: Traditions in Conflict, as well as discussions around the gospel’s apparent adoptionist Christology. Wrede’s work attempts to explain why Jesus’ spiritual identity was to be kept secret and Weeden’s book looks at an explanation for the disciples being incapable of understanding their teacher. Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel also argues that the whole of Mark was written as a grand parable.

These studies unexpectedly continue to echo in my head as I read Franzmann’s study. So the Jesus of among authors of the Nag Hammadi texts was:

  1. essentially a being whose true identity was not meant to be recognized when he appeared on earth;
  2. essentially a being who was meant to be incomprehensible;
  3. who gave secret teachings to his disciples;
  4. in a dramatic moment of illumination one disciple alone (whether Thomas, James, Mary Magdalene, Judas, Peter, Paul) does “see” him for who he is — although in the Gospel of Mark Peter’s “insight” proves to be a false one and it is the reader — “let the reader understand” — who is the real recipient of the divine revelation;
  5. essentially a being who originated in heaven whether he also had real human parents (both father and mother) or not (in some texts he did in others he didn’t);
  6. essentially a being whose appearance on earth was marked by events that were forordained or patterned in heaven;
  7. Blindness and nakedness are symbolic of inability to comprehend the spiritual and sinfulness.

I look forward to continuing this book and then the opportunity to write up more comprehensive notes, perhaps a grid, highlighting the prominent features of this “other Jesus”. I do not mean to imply that the author of Mark’s gospel borrowed or adapted his ideas from the gnostics responsible for these texts. No doubt orthodoxy and the simple fact that the originals of the Nag Hammadi texts are dated no earlier than the mid second century would make this impossible. But then I have yet to see any external evidence for the appearance of our canonical gospels that establishes a date much earlier. Ditto for the Pauline canon. And in that Pauline canon we read that that author was at odds with Christianities extolling “other Jesus’s” and “other gospels”. But these are just first-thoughts off the top of my head as I read through Franzmann. No doubt I will have time to reflect more deeply on all the evidence over the coming weeks. But I do find interesting the fact that the author of Mark’s gospel would not appear to be unaware of the sorts of concepts we also find among the Nag Hammadi texts. Or did those gnostic authors really allegorize Mark and a “historical” person with such unprecedented verve?

Neil


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2006-12-09

Justin Martyr’s 2nd century understanding of Church origins, heresy & eschatology

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by Neil Godfrey

 

Many detailed studies have been made of what Justin knew of the Sayings of Jesus but there have been fewer works discussing his understanding of the narrative of Jesus and the Church up till his own time. Since so many of the Sayings of Jesus fit well enough with the Sayings found in the Canonical gospels, and since there appear to be also a few narrative overlaps, it is widely held as a given that Justin knew of the canonical gospels.

I have doubts about this assumption, and I have expressed a few of my reasons on a new upload on my website. (I have not, however, discussed there some of the shortcomings of the studies of the Saying of Jesus in Justin — that is a future work.)

So now I have just added the next table. It was originally completed some years ago but hey, I need time to get some of these things out there.


Related post: Justin Martyr and the 2nd century gospel story


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2006-11-30

The Secrets of Judas: the Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel / James Robinson (2006). A short review.

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by Neil Godfrey

Update 7th January 2007: See this thread at iidb for more info since I wrote the following.

Far from being a shock new find that erupted onto the world around Easter 2006 by the grace of National Geographic, the existence of the Gospel of Judas manuscript has been known to scholars since the early 1980’s. Before tracing in detail the history of this manuscript along with the interplay of shady peddlings and academic egos that have long kept it from general scholarly scrutiny till now, Robinson discusses the attitudes towards Judas found in the various early Christian writings down to popular understandings today. He points out how the original Christian textual treatment of the other apostles and family of Jesus was strongly negative but that they all eventually found a way to be rehabilitated. Robinson then posits that the ethics of the biblical account of the character of Judas are wanting by normal humane standards today, and that it is time that Judas likewise be finally rehabilitated. The discussion of the text follows. Robinson’s own experience with such manuscripts and personal knowledge of the key players involved in its recent transmission enables him to offer a serious critique of the history and current treatment of this manuscript. He concludes his book with an optimistic breathe that now the National Geographic has made its profitable publicity splash at the Easter season this year, the popular hype can start to fade sufficiently for real scholarly work of reconstruction and translation and analysis, which takes time and scholarly openness, can begin, just as it eventually did likewise with the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls collections.

Link to book details: The Secrets of Judas: the Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel / James Robinson (2006)

Neil Godfrey


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2006-11-26

Comparing the Gospel of Peter with the Canonical Gospels

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by Neil Godfrey

To write the earlier essays I found it helpful to prepare a table of comparisons between the Gospel of Peter and the canonical gospels. I’ve added the link here for convenience for myself and anyone else interested.


Retraction already?

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by Neil Godfrey

Am I going mad? This looks like a retraction that my memory just told me I have not yet had time to write! When did I do this? Too busy, too busy….. Anyway, here ’tis.