Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Gospels Not the Best Place to Look for the Origins of Christianity

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the NT as we have it, and especially the gospels, is entirely dependent on that branch of Jesus’ disciples, gathered around Peter (and Paul), which is centered on the kerygma of the resurrection. Acts has preserved a few traces of other groups: Apollos and the disciples at Ephesus, who know only the baptism of John, represent at least one other current, which must have lived on with its own teaching; a similar observation could be made on the subject of James, to whom even Peter gives an account of himself. Little is known about the Jewish-Christians, but their biography of Jesus (the “Gospel of the Hebrews”), which was apparently not published, would have presented a rather different picture from the one we know, even if the facts related were more or less the same. Traces there certainly are in the NT, but they have been almost obliterated by a final redaction which has a different orientation. Similar traces are to be found also in the Eastern Churches, which regard themselves as the heirs of Jude, Thomas, etc., although nothing in the NT would lead us to suspect that. . . . .

. . . .

From what has been seen in the previous section, it is clear that the gospels are not the best place to look for the origins of Christianity, that is to say, for what happened immediately after Jesus left the scene.

Nodet, Étienne, and Justin Taylor. 1998. The Origins of Christianity: An Exploration. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. (pp. 38, 39)

Nodet and Taylor cite two reasons for that conclusion: 1, the long delay from the time of Jesus until the “publishing” of the gospels; 2, “the almost total silence regarding rites.”

Now the NT, by and large, gives no information about how to perform any rites, despite numerous allusions to them. Even more: in the gospels Jesus institutes nothing.115 In other words, many things to be observed remained unpublished. (p. 39)

Biblical Studies Comparable to Other Academic Disciplines?

Would you trust a history professor who introduced his firs lecture to you like this?

Make your PhD [does the message apply any less to undergraduate history students?] an object of service, devotion, worship, and love, for both God and the church. Your job is to preach Jesus and be forgotten.

Bird, Michael F. 2019. “The Book That Every Evangelical Phd Student in Bible/Theology Must Read!” Euangelion (blog). April 21, 2019. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2019/04/the-book-that-every-evangelical-phd-student-in-bible-theology-must-read/.

Not all biblical scholars are evangelicals. Correct. But is it not a worry that a field with claims to serious academic standing even tolerates such intellectual wolves in their midst, in same journals, books, conferences…?

Well, I Sure Got That Wrong

Tom Holland, an amateur historian with some excellent and some not so excellent writings in history.

I thought Tom Holland was a historian. I am talking about the author of In the Shadow of the Sword, a history of the seventh century Arab conquests and emergence of Islam which I posted about three times in 2013. I had read the book after a fascinating interview with Holland on Australia’s Radio National’s Late Night Live show with Philip Adams. Presumably Tom Holland had been introduced as a historian and it never crossed my mind to doubt that that was his profession.

But today I was struck by something I read in Richard Carrier’s new post today, No, Tom Holland, It Wasn’t Christian Values That Saved the West. My first reaction was that somewhere Holland was re-hashing his apology and praise for Christian values and even the heritage of the Christian church itself. Of course there’s nothing wrong with “love thy neighbour”, but Holland goes well beyond that. He credits Christianity with having, in effect, saved the world from barbarism. I certainly acknowledge many good programs throughout history by some Christians and some Christian organizations, but it is going too far to claim, as Holland does, that the difference between pagan and Christian values in ancient times was as stark as night from day.

I was somewhat incredulous that such a “reputable historian” could come out with that sort of … somewhat debatable viewpoint. So I posted:

I was just as dismayed when I noticed Tim O’Neill’s wearing of a Tom Holland praise badge on his website:

“A brilliantly erudite blog that stands sentinel against the wish-fulfilment and tendentiousness to which atheists, on occasion, can be no less prey than believers” – Tom Holland, best-selling history writer

I have demonstrated (most recently here) just how lacking in erudition and how thoroughly tendentious O’Neill’s History for Atheists actually is in some of its posts.

But Richard Carrier has shown that I myself have been caught out merely assuming Tom Holland was a credentialed/trained historian. Here is Carrier’s opening to his new post, No, Tom Holland, It Wasn’t Christian Values That Saved the West

Novelist Tom Holland just wrote an article for The Spectator titled “Thank God for Western Values,” declaring the “debt of the West to Christianity is more deeply rooted than many might presume.” Everything he says is false.

The Back Story

Holland is another amateur playing at knowing what he’s talking about. He has no degrees in history, and no advanced degrees whatever. He has a bachelors in English and Latin poetry. He dabbled in getting a Ph.D. in Byron but gave up. No shame in that; but it still doesn’t qualify you to talk about ancient history, or even medieval. So keep that in mind. As to faith, he might be called a Christian atheist.

Now I squirm with that “another amateur playing at knowing what he’s talking about” put-down, but I was determined not to be caught out again so I checked and tried to find some credible source. I followed up the following citations in Holland’s Wikipedia page:

 

Sure enough (and Carrier links to the first of these) Tom Holland never studied history at a tertiary level. Never. He has no formal studies in history to his credit. (Nor, by the way, does Tim O’Neill, who also studied literature, medieval literature in his case.) Even I have more “formal training” in university level history than Tom Holland, but more than that, I have built on my formal training (an arts degree majoring in history units, both ancient and modern) with trying to keep reasonably abreast of the scholarly debates and controversies about the nature of history ever since.

So I am finally getting my ear down close enough to the penny-in-the-slot-machine to hear the dropping action inside.

If you are wondering, by chance, in what way Holland might be incorrect when he leads a New Statesman article with

It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.

then no doubt you will find some reasons in Carrier’s own post (I have not yet read it myself but I am sure with Carrier’s qualification in ancient history there will be some pretty good pointers there), and/or you can check out a post or two on this blog, such as:

Even Pauline Christianity is arguably built on the principles of Stoic philosophy:

 

 

So the Mueller Report “Obliterates” the Conspiracy?

With regard to Facebook ads and Twitter posts from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, for example, Mueller could not have been more blunt: “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation” (emphasis added). Note that this exoneration includes not only Trump campaign officials but all Americans:

Greenwald, Glenn. 2019. “Robert Mueller Did Not Merely Reject the Trump/Russia Conspiracy Theories. He Obliterated Them.” The Intercept. April 18, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/04/18/robert-mueller-did-not-merely-reject-the-trumprussia-conspiracy-theories-he-obliterated-them/.

I can understand Russia doing all it could to damage Hillary Clinton. From my distant perspective looking across at the 2016 campaign I found myself worrying that a Clinton presidency might even risk a war with Russia over Crimea and the Ukraine. I was certainly attracted at that time to Trump’s talk of getting along with other powers. Of course, I had a lot to learn. I knew nothing about Trump before 2016.

Mischievous Mythicists At It Again

We saw it first on Valerie Tarico’s website, and now, right on the eve of Easter, it pops up in full bloom on Alternet:

 

https://www.alternet.org/2019/04/what-if-jesus-never-existed/

Or go to the original base:

What if Jesus Never Existed? An Interview with History Writer David Fitzgerald

 

The Evil Rises — Muslims, the New Witches

Since posting the vicious response of fundamentalist Christian to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire (the Triablogue post below) I have learned that the medieval inquisition is resurfacing in Europe, too.

https://www.alternet.org/2019/04/this-is-their-world-trade-center-moment-conspiracy-theorists-and-far-right-extremists-are-spreading-bogus-stories-about-the-notre-dame-blaze/

And just about everywhere else, too, where we can expect to find “defenders” against some sort of “Islamic invasion” against Christian societies:

https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2019/04/16/study-notre-dame-burned-anti-muslim-content-thrived-online/223467

Direct from the seventeenth century! Brought to you by Steve of Triablogue

Of course he has “grounds” for suspicion. Five tweets from three authors, each of whom is quickly identifiable as Islamophobic simply by skimming the first pages of their accounts.

Meanwhile, some compassionate sanity from the refreshingly godless Ophelia Benson:

Life After Faith Can Be Hard

I concluded my previous post with “Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?” That sounds flippant, perhaps. In reality life after years of relying on the crutch of faith can be very difficult at first. One no longer has a pole that enables getting over the impossible bar. Self-doubts can come back at the most inconvenient moments.

Chance had me listening to a radio interview with a psychologist who had a fundamentalist background and who had written a book, a “guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion.” Everyone is different so my own experiences of psychological recovery would be relevant to only a few others, but Marlene Winell’s book covers a wide range of insights and exercises or pathways for people damaged by their religious experiences to recover and enter “normal life” as healthy, “normal” individuals. I especially appreciated her various suggestions relating to seeing oneself as a child, lovable, accepted no matter what, as a pathway to overcoming self-loathing and maintaining a positive and healthy self-acceptance.

No doubt there are many other books that are on the same topic and that others have found very helpful in their recoveries. But Winell’s Leaving the Fold was the one that helped me and to which I often returned to keep on an even keel.

Feel free to add other books that you or others you know have found especially helpful in psychological, emotional recovery after religious indoctrination and negative pressures.

(Ed Babanski has a book by the same title, Leaving the Fold, but I think that has a slightly different emphasis. It is a collection of various types of testimonies of former fundamentalists who have found different directions after their life of faith.)

 

 

 

The Faith Trick

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.

Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.

I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.

But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.

God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.

So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.

Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.

With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.

Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.

Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.

So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?

 

 

 

(Why are) Biblioblogs Silent on the Julian Assange Arrest?

I subscribe to a wide range of biblioblogs and have been surprised to see no post (with one exception) on the Julian Assange business. Not even anything by James Crossley who has posted and written about political and ideological issues at length, but he has been quiet more generally lately. It’s not a biblical topic, you might say, and I don’t expect most biblioblogs to touch it, but a substantial number do comment on current affairs of note from time to time.

If you know of any biblioblog which has touched on the topic do please leave me a note below.

The Tongues Trick

Edward Babinski has an interesting post on the miracle of speaking in tongues on his Scrivenings blog. He used to be a tongues speaker and his description of “how it’s done” particularly interested me. It confirmed my interpretation of my own single experience with glossolalia. I was never part of a church that sanctioned tongues speaking, certainly not in church services. The Worldwide Church of God cult of which I was a member for too many years taught tongues speaking was from the devil. Nonetheless, there was a time when during intense fasting and prayer I did find myself speaking in tongues and it pulled me up with a start. I don’t recall now if I consciously decided I’d give it a try or if it somehow subconsciously came upon me in my “intense” state at the time. What surprised me how easy it was. I really could speak in what sounded very much like another language. (None of Ed Babinski’s beginner steps for me!) I wasn’t just babbling a few syllables repetitively but it really sounded as if I was speaking in sentences with “meaningful” phrases, intonation, the lot.

I knew then that it was nothing but something I could do if I just set my mind to it and “stepped out” with “my tongue”. It was very obvious to me that there was no spiritual possession involved. I realized probably anyone could be taught to do it.

History Channel’s Jesus Doco

Mercifully I do not have access to History Channel’s series Jesus: His Life (links that were sent to me by some well-meaning readers are blocked in Australia) but for those interested R.G. Price has begun to review the series in John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity site.

Evolution and missing links; fundamentalist discovers the real world; Muhammad; Detering and Trump

From Rosa Rubicondior

Three-toed Skink Is an Evolutionary Intermediate

Which came first the lizard or the egg? – The University of Sydney

Today from the the reptile world, we have a very nice example of evolution in progress, or at least in a state of dynamic equilibrium between two characteristics, each of which could be advantageous in different circumstances.

This example is an Australian skink which appears to be so finely balanced between egg-laying (oviparous) and live-young bearing (viviparous), that one individual has been observed doing both in the same pregnancy. Several weeks after laying a batch of three eggs, an individual three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis, was seen to give birth to a live young. . . .

From Julia Bainbridge on Salon.com

Life after fundamentalist Christianity: One former believer’s struggle to find clarity and himself

. . . . “Even though I still had my small bubble around me, we were what Christian artists would call playing crossover venues,” he told “The Lonely Hour.” “We were out there playing bars and meeting people all over the country that my parents warned me about or that the church cursed. I’m becoming friends with them and I’m having these beautiful, wonderful experiences with them. So I started to question my religion: Is this what they were worried about? Like, just normal people? That definitely started to challenge my long-held beliefs even further.” . . . .

Reading James’ story made me wish I had never given up music lessons so I, too, could have been in a band and learned lessons far sooner than I did. There’s also a link to the audio interview with James.

Just an image here. Go to the post on the “untold story” or John Loftus’s site for the video.

From Debunking Christianity

Was Mohammad Real?

“We can’t be certain how the Arabs became Muslim”, says researcher Tom Holland. Fascinating! Was Mohammad (“the Praised One”) originally Jesus? Was Islam originally a non-trinitarian Christian sect that rejected the need for an atonement on the cross? The evidence from coins don’t lie. People do. This is extremely interesting and new to me. Makes sense. The first video is by the Atheistic Republic, who got me thinking. The others back it up.

Loftus refers to Tom Holland’s exploration of the question of Muhammad’s historicity, something I have done here, too — See

Come on, John. Keep up.

From René Salm’s Mythicist Papers

Rene Salm is continuing to augment a database of Hermann Detering’s legacy:

This is the first of several posts that will review Dr. Detering’s life and scholarship according to the available material on- and offline. It is carried out from afar and in an admittedly impromptu manner. I invite readers to add data, links, or corrections—simply send me an email with the information and I will consider adding it to the CV. The Wikipedia article (German here) is a good place to begin, and Detering’s own brief VITA in German is on his website here.

These posts are deceptively short. However, they are dense with links that offer the interested reader avenues to explore a good deal of material.

If possible, I would like to add a personal impression of Dr. Detering’s character, work, and family life. Any reader who knew Hermann personally, and for some length of time, is invited to email me his/her impressions which I will review and certainly consider uploading.

Oh no, from Salon.com, some frightening news!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar team up with Rand Paul to praise Trump for Syria withdrawal

Won’t Trump see their support as enough reason to change his mind and go back into Syria in force?!! Why can’t they just stay quiet and make him think they oppose him on everything?

A Compassionate Nation

New Zealand PM: We will Pay for Funeral Costs of Victims and Financially Support their Families

“We are very focused in ensuring you have the support that you need in the days and the weeks and the months that follow.

Many of those who have lost their lives will be the ones who will be bringing the income into their households. Many will have dependants and spouses. I want to give you assurance the through our system in New Zealand, through ACC, there is provision to provide for those families.

That provision exists regardless of the immigration status of those who have lost their lives and regardless of the immigration status of their loved ones. It includes the cost of burial. It includes support for lost income and that can last for not just months but it can last for years. So I give you that assurance”

In this image made from video, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, March 17, 2019. (TVNZ via AP) https://www.timesofisrael.com/new-zealand-pm-comforts-mourning-muslim-community-after-deadly-mosque-shooting/

 

 

Is “Son of Man” in the Gospels a mere idiom for “I”, the speaker?

Have recent posts here about two “son of man” sayings of Jesus missed their mark (claiming to be references to Daniel 7) if the term “son of man” was simply a common way for a speaker to refer to himself?
Vermes argued that, in addition to being a normal term for “man”, the Aramaic bar nasha, “son of man”, was also a conventional substitute for the first person pronoun, “I”. — Casey, 1991:48

Casey a few years later drew a similar conclusion:

[A]s we try to recover the original force of sayings of Jesus which used this idiom . . . [w]e must go back to the term ‘son of man’ being bar (e)nāsh(ā), an ordinary Aramaic term for ‘man’, used in an idiomatic way in a general statement which refers particularly to the speaker with or without other people. — Casey, 2010:361

With the author’s permission I am posting a few pages (355-358/9) of The Sovereignty of the Son of Man: Reading Mark 2, an article freely available online on Daniel Boyarin’s academia.edu page.

I have bolded key thought changes and background coloured examples to (hopefully) assist with easier reading. I have also kept the original page breaks with in-place footnotes.

A Read Herring: “The Son of Man” as Periphrasis for “I”

In order, however, to proceed into my own inquiry into the evidence of Mark for the “Son of Man” in early Judaism, I must first show why I do not accept the conclusion of Geza Vermes, who argued that it is just a circumlocution for “I.” In a series of articles, culminating in an important essay published as “Appendix E” to the third edition of Matthew Black’s Aramaic Approach,7 Vermes attempted to revive a theory that had been advanced and abandoned a century ago to the effect that “The Son of Man” is merely an ordinary Aramaic locution by which someone refers to themselves in the third person, hence “I.” I think it can be taken as granted that given Vermes’s exhaustive investigation, his study should be considered definitive,8 and if it fails, we can consider that suggestion as rejectable.9 Although an entire array of scholars have already disputed Vermes’s conclusion, none have, I think, shown that the interpretations of rabbinic literature adduced by him, do not stand, and that there is, therefore, no evidence whatsoever for the argument that in Aramaic, “son of man” can mean “I” (that it means a human being is, of course, not in doubt at all).10 I thus accordingly

———————

7 G. Vermes, “Appendix E: The Use of Bar Nash/Bar Nasha in Jewish Aramaic: An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (ed. Μ. Black; 3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon, 1967), 310-28; P. Haupt, “The Son of Man = Hic Homo = Ego,” JBL 40 (1921).

8 P. Owen and D. Shepherd, “Speaking up for Qumran, Dalman and the Son ofMan: Was Bar Enasha a Common Term for ‘Man in the Time of Jesus?” JSNT 81 (2001): 84.

9 And it has been rejected by a host of scholars, from Fitzmyer through Jeremiah to Colpe, for all of which references see A. Yarbro Collins, “The Influence of Daniel on the New Testament in Daniel: A Commentary on the Book Daniel (ed. J.J. Collins; Hermeneia; Min-neapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 94, n. 30.

10 It should be noted that Norman Perrin, A Modern Pilgrimage in New Testament Christology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 70, makes major use of this untenable argument to make his case that all Christological use of “The Son of Man” must be post-Easter, an argument that is, in this respect, repeated by Lindars, Jesus, Son Man.


essentially agree with Hans Lietzmann as cited by Vermes to the effect that “His main findings are that the term is a common one, and that it is used as a kind of indefinite pronoun (ברעש = jemand; לית בר נש- niemand; בני נש= Leute). It is, he writes, ‘die farbloseste und unbestimmteste Bezeichnung des menschlichen In-dividuums’ (p. 38). He then goes on to postulate what seems to him to be the only logical corollary: as a designation בר נש is by nature inapplicable to any particular man, let alone to Jesus, the greatest of all men (p. 40).”11 Lietzmann put the question brilliantly; his answer, on the other hand, that the Son of Man must be a Hellenistic terminus technicus is a non-sequitur, for even if semantically and syntactically “Son of Man” in Aramaic means indeed just a person and nothing else, pragmatically (by which I mean in the case of a particular set of syntagms), the “Son of Man” as a citation of Daniel could certainly have come to mean the Christ already in Hebrew/Aramaic. An example, just to make this clear, would be the following: “Rav” simply means “Rabbi,” but for the majority of Orthodox Jews in the U.S., “the Rav” means one and only one Rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik OBM. Let us, then, have a look at Vermes’s evidence.

In order to make his case, Vermes must demonstrate the alleged use of בר נש as a circumlocution meaning “I.” Although he gives several examples, in every one of these, rather than seeing a circumlocution for “I,” we can see quite a (different idiom. I shall first discuss an example that Vermes seems to consider particularly strong.12 In the first:

Jacob of Kefar Nibburayya gave a ruling in Tyre that fish should be ritually slaughtered. Hearing this, R. Haggai sent him this order: Come and be scourged! He replied, should בר נש be scourged who proclaims the word of Scripture? (Gen. Rabba vii 2)13

Vermes wishes to claim that, “theoretically, of course, bar nash may be rendered here as ‘one’, but the context hardly suggests that at this particular juncture Jacob intends to voice a general principle. Hurt by his opponent’s harsh words, he clearly seems to be referring to himself and the indirect idiom is no doubt due to the implied humiliation.”14 Vermes here simply confuses the semantics and the pragmatics of the sentence. Of course, pragmatically the speaker is referring to himself, but semantically he is using a general expression. An example from English will make this clear. In the famous and brilliant lyric from Guys and Dolls, Adelaide sings plaintively: “In other words, just by waiting around for that

———————

11 Vermes, “The Use,” 311.

12 Vermes, “The Use,” 321-2.

13 Genesis Rabbah (eds. J. Theodor and H. Albeck; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1965), 51. Ver-mes’s translation.

14 Vermes, “The Use.”


little band of gold […] a person could develop a cold!” Of course, pragmatically she is referring to herself; it is her own situation of which she complains, but semantically “a person” in English is an indefinite pronomial form and not a circumlocution for “I.”15 The same is true for this example and, mutatis mutandis, all the other ones that Vermes cites. But another should be cited, because, at least, of the mutatis mutandis:

When R. Hiyya bar Adda died, son of the sister of Bar Kappara, R. Levi received his valuables. This was because his teacher used to say, The disciple of בר נשא is as dear to him as his son. (Yer Ber. 5b)

There is not the slightest justification to see a circumlocution for “I” here either. Rabbi Hiyya has expressed a general principle that the disciple of a person is as dear to him as his son and the conclusion was drawn on the pragmatic level (in several senses) that he intended his disciple to be his heir.

Another example cited by Vermes turns out to be a counter-example:

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoh said: “If I had been standing on Mt. Sinai at the hour that the Torah was given to Israel I would have demanded of the Merciful One that that human being would have been created with two mouths, one to be busy with Torah and one to do with it all of his daily needs.” Then he changed his mind and said: “If even with only one, the world cannot subsist because of all of the delations, if there were two all the more so!” [Palestinian Talmud Shabbat chapter 1, halakhah, page 3b]

Now it is obvious here, pace Vermes, that the Rabbi is not referring to himself as “that man” here, for then he would be, as well, accusing himself of being an informer, which he hardly was and hardly would do.16 There can be no doubt that here, as well, we must understand “הדין בר נש” here as “One,” German “Mann”, and nothing else. There remains not even one example in which the term Son of Man is a periphrastic usage for “I.”

In all of Vermes’s examples, then, “general principles are stated which are applied in the context of the narrative to an individual, usually the speaker.17 Vermes’s argument fails totally because he does not even once observe the

———————

15 Vermes’s citation of the answer “You […]” as confirmation of his thesis hardly needs refuting. Nathan Detroit, of course, would comfort Adelaide by saying: “Ah baby, you’ll be married soon.” That still doesn’t make “a person” = “I” semantically.

16 This consideration also thoroughly discredits Lindars’s reading according to which bar nesha here means “anyone (…) who was as deeply conscious of the divine generosity as Simeom himself,” Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 22. Even more sharply than with respect to the interpretation of Vermes, one would ask: Is this the class of people one would suspect of being informers to the Romans and even more so had they two mouths? I think the conclusion is inescapable that here (with or without haden=this), the meaning is the human being in general.

17 See examples cited Vermes, “The Use,” 323-7. For similar conclusions reached by slightly different methods, see Μ. Casey, “Method in Our Madness, and Madness in Their Methods: Some Approaches to the Son of Man Problem in Recent Scholarship,” JSNT 42 (1991): 18.


difference between semantic (lexical) meaning and pragmatic meaning or between sense and reference. There is, therefore, no evidence, whatsoever for “son of man” being used in Aramaic texts as a circumlocution for “I,” as Lietzmann realized.18

I conclude, therefore, that Vermes has adduced no convincing evidence that “Son of Man” was ever used as a circumlocution for “I” even in the Palestinian Aramaic of Late Antiquity; still less has he witnesses for the Aramaic of the first century. Vermes’s argument thus fails to convince on lexical philological grounds, in spite of its superficial attractiveness for the interpretation of some verses within the Gospels. Given that Vermes’s alleged idiomatic usage of “son of man” as periphrasis for “I” proves to be a ghost, another explanation of this genuinely weird usage must be sought. Lietzmann (and a host of others) have sought the explanation in the positing of a “Heavenly Man” or Anthropos myth underlying Christology. Rejecting (as have, I think, most interpreters by now) such far-fetched and far-flung explanations, to my mind, the only plausible one that remains is that of the great Jewish theologian and scholar of the last century, Leo Baeck, who wrote: “Whenever in later works ‘that Son Man,’ ‘this Son of Man’, or ‘the Son of Man’ is mentioned, it is the quotation from Daniel that is speaking.19 In other words, I fully accept (as I think wë must) Vermes’s hypothesis of an Aramaic origin (in the oral traditions that lie behind the Gospels) for the phrase, “The Son of Man,” but deny his interpretation of that Aramaic

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18 For another review of Vermes’s evidence, arriving, however, at different conclusions, see Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 19-24. Lindars accepts only one example as fully relevant and builds his entire case on that, the example being y Shevi’it 38d: [Rabbi Shimon] sat at the mouth of the cave [where he was hiding from the Romans] and he saw a hunter catching birds. He spread his net. He heard a voice from heaven [ברה קול], say dimus [Dimissio], and it was freed. He said [to himself], “a bird does not perish without Heaven, so much more so a human being!” Lindars chooses to translate this as “How much less a man in my position,” without any warrant other than the alleged article on bar nesha. Given, however, the philological state of the Palestinian Talmud, as well as the centuries later date in any case, to build an entire interpretation of the Son of Man on this one highly doubtful example, seems almost to constitute scholarly legerdemain. There is no reason to imagine that Rabbi Shimon means a man in his position as opposed to any human whatsoever. Once again, a simple generic is being used and applied by the speaker pragmatically to himself. A bird doesn’t perish except by the will of Heaven, still less a human being, [so why am I hiding here]? What is most important to recognize is that if this idiom is operative, for instance, at Matthew 8:20: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but bar enasha has nowhere to lay his head,” it could only mean that foxes have holes and birds have nests but humans have nowhere to lay their heads, which is palpably false (Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 30), so despite the apparent similarity of this one single exemplum from late-ancient Palestinian Aramaic, we must resist the temptation to treat them as the same linguistic form, pace Lindars, Jesus, Son of Man, 29-31. Lindars’s own solution to this problem involves pure philological fantasy, nothing more or less. In another, longer version of this argument, I will provide further argument against Lindars’s position. Insofar as it depends on Vermes’s flawed conclusions, it is, in any case, untenable.

191 L. Baeck, Judaism and Christianity: Essays (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1958), 28-9.


phrase. In what follows in this necessarily brief paper, I shall try to show how the hypothesis of literary allusion to Daniel in this phrase enables stronger readings of a pair of Markan loci.


 

And that takes us back to yesterday’s post, How the Gospel of Mark Retrofitted Jesus into a Pre-Existing Christ Idea.

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Boyarin, Daniel. 2010. “The Sovereignty of the Son of Man: Reading Mark 2.” In The Interface of Orality and Writing: Speaking, Seeing, Writing in the Shaping of New Genres, edited by Annette Weissenrieder and Robert B. Coote, 353–62. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Casey, Maurice. 1991. From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology. Cambridge, England: JClarke ; Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press.

———. 2010. Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. London ; New York: T&T Clark.