2020-03-13

Hebrew Hypothesis for Gospels of Matthew and Mark continued

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by Neil Godfrey

From Damien Mackey‘s academia.edu page, article: Fr Jean Carmignac dates Gospels early

Here is a little more background for anyone interested in Jean Carmignac’s hypothesis that the Gospels of Mark and Matthew were originally written in the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have excerpted sections from Carmignac’s preface and first chapter. The bolded highlighting is mine to enable a quick perusal of key points.

From the Preface:

. . . . May I be pardoned above all for having written this book. I decided upon it only after a good deal of soul searching. For my original plan was to pursue my research as far as possible, to present it in a number of large technical volumes and only then to offer my research to the public at large in a little volume which would be less forbidding. But several friends convinced me to begin with this little volume. They made the point that I ran the risk of being six feet under before finishing the larger works and that for several years my research has, in no way, altered my conclusions so that I can therefore honestly begin to share it with others. The future will show if I have been correct in paying attention to these friends.

In this work, I have endeavored to make sure that it contains no polemics. I name no one nor do I have anyone in mind. I know very well that the views set forth here are not in conformity with the current vogue in exegesis. I have not attempted to refute arguments which may support opinions different from my own. I am proposing the results of research pursued since April 1963, more than twenty years. My research has convinced me, and I would like to share my firm beliefs with others. I furnish proofs which have led me to one or another conclusion; I would have been able to give many others, but these would have gone beyond the general purpose of a book which was intended for the public at large. These I am reserving for more technical works. Thus readers will now be able to compare what I think with what they are hearing said all around them. It is up to them to weigh the arguments and to judge freely for themselves.

In order not to stifle these poor readers, I have decided not to give all the specific references to works which I have utilized, save in certain particularly important cases. Complete bibliographies will appear in the larger volumes which are presently in preparation.

In order to show clearly the subjective character of this work, which is merely the presentation of my personal research, I would have preferred to title it: “Twenty Years of Work on the Formation of the Synoptic Gospels.” An objection was raised that this title is too long and not particularly catching. But it is more exact.

I believe myself sincere in my quest for the truth. If I am presented with convincing proofs, I will always be ready to improve and even to modify my present conclusions.

From Chapter I: Elaboration of the Hypothesis read more »


2020-03-12

Once More: The Fictions of the Beloved Disciple and Johannine Community

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by Neil Godfrey

Free for all who are interested: Sage publishers have made one of their recently published articles open access:

Méndez, H. (2020). “Did the Johannine Community Exist?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 42(3), 350–374.

https://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X19890490

Speaking of devils, the same themes of false (literary) communities and false witnesses (Beloved Disciple) have been addressed very recently on this blog:

Only “yesterday” we spoke of Nanine Charbonnel’s and Philip Davies’ points about ideal “New Israel” types of communities:

Similarly with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many are written as pseudepigraphs, in the names of the patriarchs, or of the prophets. They appear to be a new type of literature at variance from what we are familiar with in the Old Testament collection. The scrolls indicate the presence of a particular community and a leader, the Teacher of Righteousness. Many assume both of these to be a literal group and a historical leader. Yet we have no way of proving either thought. As the “community” in the scrolls in fact an ideal community, a “new Israel”? (Charbonnel does not make the specific connection with Philip Davies but the same possibility can be seen underlying some of his discussion of the meaning of “Israel” — see What do we mean by Israel?) Are we reading a literary creation of a visionary utopia rather than a historical account of an actual group of persons?

A Midrashic Hypothesis for the Gospels

And last month we looked at David Litwa’s case for the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John being a literary fiction:

Litwa notes a huge problem facing the author of the fourth gospel. He was introducing radically new material into the life of Jesus. Believers were familiar with the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, so how to get away with changing the temple cleansing episode from the end to the beginning of the gospel, and how to introduce the raising of Lazarus, with any chance that they would be accepted?

The solution: Introduce a character who was more mature spiritually than any other disciple, the closest favourite of Jesus, one so beloved that his credibility could not be doubted.

Depicting the trustworthiness of this character is vital, for this disciple is also presented as a key source for the fourth gospel itself and therefore an authority for its distinctive presentation of Jesus’s identity”. . . .

We do not need to speculate about the identity of the Beloved Disciple to realize his function: to validate the fourth gospel’s vivid and alternative presentation of Jesus.

(Litwa, 197)

Review, part 15. Eyewitnesses and the Beloved Disciple (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)

So it seems like the seasonal time to draw attention to Hugo Méndez’s article. Candida Moss has already brought it to the attention of a vastly wider audience through the Daily Beast with Everyone’s Favorite Gospel is a Forgery.

One point I found particularly interesting in the Méndez article was the discussion of criteria for identifying literary relationships. “If only”, I thought. If only we applied the same principles to the Testimonium Flavianum, that passage in Josephus that discusses Jesus. Yes, some words in that passage are “Josephan” but it does not follow that the passage itself or some part of it was originally by Josephus. But that’s another story.

If you are too pressed for time to read the entire article here are a few sections that I saw as highlights: read more »


2020-03-11

A Semitic Original for the Gospels of Mark and Matthew?

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by Neil Godfrey

Jean Carmignac

I don’t know if the Gospel of Mark did begin its life as a Hebrew text but in the light of the previous post it is necessary to share some of the reasons a few scholars (or at least Jean Carmignac : see also Wayback Machine) have thought it did.

Chapter three of The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels sets out the history of research into semitisms in the gospels and discusses in some detail nine types of them.

  1. Semitisms of Borrowing
  2. Semitisms of Imitation
  3. Semitisms of Thought
  4. Semitisms of Vocabulary
  5. Semitisms of Syntax
  6. Semitisms of Style
  7. Semitisms of Composition
  8. Semitisms of Transmission
  9. Semitisms of Translation

I’ll post here a few of the parts in #7, Semitisms of Composition. Carmignac suggests that there are numerous turns of phrase in our Greek gospels that would not exist in our Greek texts unless they had been translated from a Semitic or Hebrew language original.

Crying in the wilderness

After its title: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, the Gospel of Mark begins in the following fashion:

As it is written in the Prophet Isaiah “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

20. The word “and” is not found in all the manuscripts, and one has good reason for thinking that it does not any longer figure in the primitive Greek text.

There was John baptizing in the desert (and)20 preaching (Mark 1:1-4).

How did this citation from Isaiah (which combines Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 in a form other than is found in the Septuagint, and Isaiah 40:3) come about? (p. 27)

Carmignac finds a simple answer to his question. Isaiah 40:3 begins with “voice crying in the wilderness”:

קול qôl voice
קורא qôré’ crying
במדבר bemidbâr in the wilderness
22. The initial syllable we corresponds to the conjunction “and ” present in certain Greek manuscripts but not in all.
23. The pesher consists in describing a present situation in the terms of a passage from the Old Testament.

. . . . and if Mark 1:4, is retranslated into Hebrew, we obtain the following: wayyehî Yôhânân matbtîl bemidbâr (we) qôré.22

The words bemidbâr (in the wilderness) and qôré’ (crying or preaching) are taken from Isaiah and applied to John the Baptist according to the process which is known as pesher, such as it was practiced at the time at Qumran (and elsewhere).23

The pesher only works in Hebrew, not with the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah. In the Greek text of Mark 1:4 a different word is used for John’s crying or preaching (κηρύσσων / kérussôn) whereas the Greek text of Isaiah 40:3 used “bôontos“. 

In order that the pesher be noticed in English, it would be necessary to use the verb proclaim twice: from Isaiah, the voice proclaiming in the desert and from Mark, in the desert proclaiming a baptism of conversion.) Thus the citation from Isaiah only agrees with the account of Mark in Hebrew, but not in Greek in which its meaning disappears. (p. 27)

Forgive us our debts

read more »


2020-03-10

A Midrashic Hypothesis for the Gospels

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing my reading of part 2 of Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier . . . .

. . . o . . .

At the heart of Nanine Charbonnel’s thesis lies the question of how much we read in the gospels was written in a figurative sense and how much literal. Arthur Schopenhauer famously declared that all religious truth is expressed allegorically or mythically. But then the question becomes how such a beast can be controlled and not leave us pondering all sorts of fancies. And what devils arise if we know we are reading allegory and conclude that it is therefore not true! To bypass such anarchy Charbonnel determines to explore the precise mechanisms that have gone into the production of the gospels.

We have referred earlier to the nineteenth critical author David Friedrich Strauss. Strauss declared many episodes in the gospels to be myths but what he meant by that was a narrative constructed around an Old Testament precedent. Strauss recognized the OT origins of the infant Jesus having to flee tyrants (Pharaoh and Moses), the star of Bethlehem (the star of Balaam’s prophecy), the magi visiting Jesus (the magi of Isaiah and gifts of  Psalm 72), Jesus’ multiplications of the loaves (the manna in the desert and Elisha’s 20 loaves), the water into wine (Moses converting the brackish water into pure), the transfiguration of Jesus (Moses and Elijah with YHWH on the mountain), and so forth.

Where Strauss most notably failed was in his belief that Judaism does not allow for any notion of a suffering Messiah. He failed, therefore, to see that the most central event of the gospels was likewise a “mythical” adaptation of the OT. The significance of this viewpoint is that Strauss recognized that the author of the Jesus story was not starting from a “historical event” but from a theme, an idea. He wrote, for example, how the idea of a literal Messianic “son of God” grew out of texts like Psalm 2:7 (“Thou are my son, this day have I begotten thee”) and the prophecy in Isaiah for a child to be born to a “virgin” (Life of Jesus Critically Examined, I. ch.3, §29).

A Different Type of Symbolic Writing

Central to Charbonnel’s thesis is an understanding of different types of symbolic writing. Ernest Renan captures the most common view of the gospels as being quite unlike any form of allegory or symbolism:

That our Gospel is dogmatic I recognise, but it is by no means allegorical. The really allegorical writings of the first centuries, the Apocalypse, the Pastor of Hermas, the Pista Sophia, possess quite a different charm. (Renan, Life of Jesus, Appendix)

For Charbonnel the symbolism of the gospels is also striking even though quite unlike that of texts we typically think of as symbolic. Rabbinic writings contain another form of figurative tales that are typically called midrashic. But for Charbonnel there is another type of midrashic literature not found in those later Jewish texts.

Look at the Shepherd of Hermas, for example. Much of the text is clearly symbolic with characters personifying the church, virtues, etc. However, at other times it relates scenes that could well pass as realistic story even though we know they should be interpreted allegorically. Charbonnel raises the suggestion that our canonical gospels and the canonical Book of Revelation might be two sides, an obverse and reverse, of a symbolic form of narrative.

Similarly with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many are written as pseudepigraphs, in the names of the patriarchs, or of the prophets. They appear to be a new type of literature at variance from what we are familiar with in the Old Testament collection. The scrolls indicate the presence of a particular community and a leader, the Teacher of Righteousness. Many assume both of these to be a literal group and a historical leader. Yet we have no way of proving either thought. As the “community” in the scrolls in fact an ideal community, a “new Israel”? (Charbonnel does not make the specific connection with Philip Davies but the same possibility can be seen underlying some of his discussion of the meaning of “Israel” — see What do we mean by Israel?) Are we reading a literary creation of a visionary utopia rather than a historical account of an actual group of persons?

Midrash

So far I have used the term “midrashic”. Charbonnel speaks of “midrash”. We have come across considerable controversy in some quarters of the meaning of this term so let’s settle what we mean, exactly, in this series, or in Nanine Charbonnel’s text. Charbonnel draws upon the definition set forth by the Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin. I quote from the relevant section of The Jewish Gospels:

Although a whole library could [and has been) written on midrash, for the present purposes it will be sufficient to define it as a mode of biblical reading that brings disparate passages and verses together in the elaboration of new narratives. It is something like the old game of anagrams in which the players look at words or texts and seek to form new words and texts out of the letters that are there. The rabbis who produced the midrashic way of reading considered the Bible one enormous signifying system, any part of which could be taken as commenting on or supplementing any other part. They were thus able to make new stories out of fragments of older ones [from the Bible itself), via a kind of anagrams writ large; the new stories, which build closely on the biblical narratives but expand and modify them as well, were considered the equals of the biblical stories themselves. (Boyarin, p. 76)

Such a definition is broad. The later rabbinic midrash can be made to fit a narrower definition. In this discussion, however, we are looking at a form of Jewish literature that preceded those rabbinic texts.

So in this context what can be said about the Gospels? read more »


2020-03-09

Inadequacy of the Tools in the Search for the Historical Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing my reading of part 2 of Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier . . . .

. . o . .

Legend? Tale? Novel? — If these labels can be applied to any of the Old Testament works they fail when we attempt to relate them to the New Testament narratives.

The impasse of the “legendary” additions to a “biography”

The eighteenth-century scholars of the Enlightenment sought to pull Jesus down from his divine status but to endorse him as a wise and exceptional teacher and human being. Lessing (Education of the Human Race, 1780) spoke of humanity going through various psychological stages and being ready for Jesus at the time he came to bring us out of childish legalism and into the light of the rational and spiritual appropriate for emerging adolescence.

A BETTER Inftructor muft come and tear the exhaufted Primer from the child’s hands. Christ came !

Lessing

That portion of the human race which God had willed to comprehend in one Educational plan, was ripe for the fecond ftep of Education. . . .

That is, this portion of the human race had advanced fo far in the exercife of its reafon, as to need, and to be able to make ufe of, nobler and worthier motives of moral action than temporal rewards and punifhments, which had hitherto been its guides. The child has become a youth. Sweetmeats and toys have given place to the budding defire to become as free, as honoured, and as happy as its elder brother. (Lessing, Education, sections 53-55)

Ernest Renan caused a storm when he published a study of Jesus (1863) that humanized him, psychologized him and stripped him of his divinity, in the process establishing his more “genuine” place in history.

Let us then place the person of Jesus on the highest summit of human grandeur. Let us not permit ourselves to be led astray by exaggerated distrust in regard to a legend which continually draws us’ into the supernatural world. The life of a Francis d’Assisi is also only a tissue of miracle. Still has anybody ever doubted the existence and the character of Francis d’Assisi ?  . . . .

Renan

The evangelists themselves, who have bequeathed to us the image of Jesus, are so far below him of whom they speak, that they constantly disfigure him because they cannot attain his hight. Their writings are full of mistakes and misconceptions. At every line we recognise discourse of a divine beauty reported by writers who do not understand it, and who substitute their own ideas for those which they but half comprehend. Upon the whole, the character of Jesus, far from having been embellished by his biographers, has been belittled by them. Criticism, to discover what he really was, must eliminate a series of mistakes, arising from the indifferent understanding of the disciples. They have painted him as they conceived him, and often, while thinking to make him greater, have in reality made him less. (Renan, Life of Jesus, 368-69)

According to Renan (and historical Jesus studies are in one sense still following in his train) everything in the Gospels can be explained in terms of mixing the historical with the legendary. Renan excels at it and that’s what caused a scandal in France at the time: the gospels are full of invention, alteration, metamorphosis, the illusions of followers, when it suits him, and authentic sayings whenever they correspond to the idea that he makes Jesus “the incomparable man”. Renan’s efforts are still being undertaken today though with ongoing efforts to hone sharper analytical tools.

Another false foundation has been the “logia”, the supposedly authentic words of Jesus that registered on the spot by original witnesses. Not mentioned by Charbonnel but Maurice Casey’s claim is one of the more extreme: he proposed that a disciple took down words and wrote on wax tablets the words of Jesus as he heard Jesus speak. Edgar Quinet from 1838 could joke about this research on the logia:

Quinet

Lessing held them to be free translations of a lost original which one imagined in turn to be Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldaic or Syriac, even Greek, and which finally was supposed never to have been written; this is what was called an oral gospel.(Edgar Quinet, ”La vie de Jésus-Christ, du Docteur Strauss”, en ligne § 33)

We have theories woven around the purported words of Papias that an original Gospel of Mathew contained words of Jesus in Hebrew. We have Q, the source hypothesized to explain similarities between Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark, and that is thought to consist primarily of sayings material. But none of these hypotheses, even if there were such documents, can possibly be verified as originating with the words of Jesus and accordingly they can bring us no closer to a historical Jesus.

Treating the gospels as primarily “legendary” colouring of the life of Jesus does not help us get closer to a historical Jesus behind them. On the contrary, the concept contributes to obscuring the question of the nature of “biography”. Renan was forced to admit the vagueness of the notion:

Let the Gospels be in part legendary, that is evident since they are full of miracles and the supernatural; but there are different species of legends. Nobody doubts the principle traits of the life of Francis of Assisi, though in it the supernatural is met at every step. Nobody, on the contrary, gives credence to the “Life of Apollonius of Tyana”, because it was written long after the hero and in the conditions of a pure romance. (Renan, Life of Jesus, 17-18)

A more radical view of the gospels is that they consist largely of myth. But this view does not help bring us closer to a historical Jesus, either. read more »


2020-03-08

How Earth Created Homo Sapiens

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by Neil Godfrey

A most fascinating read is Lewis Dartnell’s Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History.

In his first chapter, he provides an answer to the question: What was it about our environment that selected for the emergence of us, bipedal, somewhat more intelligent than other primates, highly social, etc? More specifically, what was it about the Rift Valley in East Africa that made it the setting for the appearance of our first ancestors?

The first puzzle is why the Rift Valley at all and why that region does not share the dominance of rain forests that are the feature of the other regions in the same latitudes — Amazon, South-East Asia.

Dartnell brings together the wealth of published research into questions like these and identifies the following factors:

1. The crashing of India into Eurasia forcing up the Himalayas. To be more specific, it is the subsequent erosion of the Himalayas — the effects of ice sheets and rain — that has led damp soil to pull carbon dioxide out from the atmosphere, react with it and form calcite that is washed away down to the oceans where it is transformed into shells by sea creatures. Carbon dioxide extraction from the atmosphere has had a cooling effect on the globe. The cooling has resulted in less rainfall and a drier climate.

2. At the same time, and related to the above, moisture is being sucked into the Himalayan and Tibetan region to create the monsoon system over India and South East Asia, but this has meant the pulling of moisture from East Africa.

3. The crashing of Australia into New Guinea led to land rises that blocked off the warm waters that had flowed from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean, allowing colder waters from the North Pacific to take their place.

4. Add 1, 2 and 3 above and we begin to see why rain forests are not to be expected in East Africa.

Next scene: tectonic shifts around East Africa

5. Magma pushed up along the region from the Red Sea through to Kenya and beyond. That caused the overlying crust to slowly split, making huge cliffs either side of a new valley floor that was some half a mile above sea level.

http://www.safari-center.com/formation-of-east-african-rift-valley/

6. The mountains forming on the east side blocked rainfall from the Indian ocean from reaching much of the valley itself. Add that to #4 above.

7. read more »


Jesus Christ, Sublime Literary Creation of the Human Spirit

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by Neil Godfrey

“Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault,” said my friend.
“What nonsense you do talk!” replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.
“Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain,” said Dupin.
“Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?”
“A little too self-evident.”
“Ha! ha! ha—ha! ha! ha!—ho! ho! ho!” roared our visiter, profoundly amused, “oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!”— Edgar Allen Poe, The Purloined Letter

Such is the epilogue introducing Nanine Charbonnel’s introduction to the second and major part of her book, Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier. What follows is my attempt to pass on the main sense of Charbonnel’s chapter. (See the Charbonnel archive for the previous posts.)

 . . . o . . .

No matter how much we have prepared for a calm discussion on the hypothesis of the non-existence of Jesus (see the previous posts in this series), a paper persona yet nonetheless a sublime creation of the human spirit, we are inevitably faced with a different reality:

  • mainstream media may pretend neutrality when publishing on the notion but is in fact quite ignorant of the issues;
    .
  • which opens the way to numerous charlatans of the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code variety, with suggestions of lost secrets, usually of a sexual nature, such as involving a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. These sorts of readings feed on a hatred of the institution of the Church and paradoxically only serve to strengthen the position of the Church as the only true rational voice;.
  • * The Russian novelist Mikhaïl Bulgakov in The Master of Margarita wrote of the president of one of the most significant literary associations of Moscow ordering a young poet to compose “a great anti-religious poem”. He is, however, dissatisfied with the result: “Berlioz therefore wanted to show the poet that the main thing was not to know how Jesus was – good or bad – but to understand that Jesus, as a person, never existed, and that everything we told about him was pure invention – a myth of the most ordinary kind.” (Le Maître et Marguerite, Lère Partie, ch. I, trad, du Russe by C. Ligny, Robert Laffont, 1968; pocket ed., 2009, p. 27).

    Charbonnel, on the contrary, affirms that it is by no means a “myth of the most ordinary kind”, and refuses in advance to be designated as “mythicist” — a term that is applied as a convenient way to disqualify her thesis.

    the historical baggage (at least in France) of the earlier mythicist views: Dupuis and Volney (18th century) reduced Christianity to either an astral mythology or an essentially pre-existing pagan religion without any regard for Judaism or key specifics of the texts. These theories became associated with Freemasons, “free-thinkers” and even state communism.*.

  • the naive pusillanimity of the “rationalists” (such is the literal translation and one I find it too delicious to alter.)
    .

    • We have seen in relation to the Old Testament how the Holbach-style Enlightenment inadvertently led us into the ruts of an “objectivist” hermeneutic. A fortiori, as for Jesus, the loss of religious belief, far from allowing a grasp of the admirable richness of the production of sublime texts, led to pseudo-evidence: the Gospels would become a testimony about a normal man so that everything supranormal in the gospels would be removed in some way.
      .
    • We have also seen how Spinoza unfortunately made “rationalization” coincide with psychological or naturalistic reductionism. As far as Jesus is concerned, Spinoza opens the impasse into which a pseudo-enlightened modernity will go astray: dividing up testimony between a real man and imaginary additions. Oldenburg asked Spinoza:

      “This story of passion, death, burial, the resurrection of Christ seems to be told in such vivid colors that I will not be afraid to appeal to your conscience: do you believe that this story should be taken for an allegory or literally […]?”

      Spinoza answers: “I understand the passion of Christ, his death and his burial, literally; his resurrection on the contrary, in an allegorical sense.”

    • And this is how we destroy this very thing that we seek to explain. We come to a situation where it is standard to believe in real, historical persons behind the narrative but that the stories themselves have been embellished. (Not that we should ridicule these efforts since they — names like Paulus and Renan — displayed great courage to promote such “critical” views in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as accounting for miracles by coincidences or psychological confusion, etc.)
      .
    • We arrive then at the supreme impasse which faces us today: belief in the distinct existence of a “historical Jesus and the Christ of faith”. The terms date from the great author David Friedrich Strauss in 1865, but have entered everyday thought, especially since the influence of the great theologian Bultmann (1930s to 1960s). We will see that these terms, this dichotomy (historical Jesus vs Christ of faith) constitute the most formidable barrier to any scientific advance. Let us first recall some other popular views . . .
      .
  • Reduction to the ethical message: The biblical text is treated as a repository of the highest of sacred ethical teachings emanating from the great teacher Jesus. Of course, such an approach must ignore the similar contemporary teachings of Judean rabbis, of cruel judgemental pronouncements, and so forth. read more »

2020-03-06

Jesus Christ as a sublime paper persona

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by Neil Godfrey

Charbonnel, Nanine. 2017. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. Paris: Berg International.

Last year I posted my understanding of Part 1 of the French publication, Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier. See for the ten posts covering that introductory section of Nanine Charbonnel’s book. Anyone who read through those posts would have realized that they were preparatory for what they expected to read about from the book’s title. They would also have begun to appreciate that there is much more to understand about the background to any “biblical” writing than a layperson’s or generalist’s knowledge will prepare them for. It may be some weeks (even months?, god forbid!) before I resume my chapter by chapter posts on the second half of Charbonnel’s work but in the meantime here is some background and overview of what is to come.

The author

http://charbonnel.populus.org/rub/2

A specialist in hermeneutics, Philosophy Professor Dr Nanine Charbonnel (University of Strasbourg, France) published various books among which …

    • Philosophie de Rousseau (Rousseau’s philosophy), 3 vols., Aréopage, 2006 ;
    • Comme un seul homme. Corps politique et Corps mystique (Together as one. Body Politic and Mystical Body), Aréopage, 2010 ;
    • Critique des métaphysiques du propre. La ressemblance et le Verbe (Critique of the literal sense in metaphysics. Similitude and Logos), Hildesheim / Zürich / New York: Olms Verlag, 2014;
    • Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier (Jesus Christ as a sublime paper persona), Paris : Berg International, 2017.

I. A few words by the French publisher

Nanine Charbonnel’s major points

Her book provides a deep insight into Jesus as a literary construct. In no way is it a diatribe against Christianity, nor the debunking of a hoax but an apt introduction to Jewish culture and the Hebrew bible which highlights the devices underlying the gospels as unparalleled written masterpieces. This book is based on an articulate academic research conducted by a philosopher well aware of the Christian tradition and culture and keen on what Christianity has brought to Western civilisation.

For quite a few centuries, critiques who, in their own right, are reluctant to believe in a God who was made Man, have fallen back on a seemingly simple distinction between the ”Jesus of History”, about whom nothing is known, and the ”Christ of faith” who would only depend on a confessional affirmation. This standpoint actually leads to a deadlock and we had better look for another kind of approach. It sounds more consistent to consider how the gospels fit in the Hebrew-Greek midrashic tradition. Everything takes place in the text and only in the text, in keeping with the Hebrew Holy Scriptures in which words and reality are the two sides of the same coin. Therefore nothing is to be put aside in what the Gospel characters are said to do, including the miracles they are supposed to operate since this is part and parcel of their identity. On the other hand, whatever they do is a form of accomplishment – within the text – of what is adumbrated in the Hebrew Bible. As far as the Jesus character is concerned, his name – Yeshua – stands for Salvation and embodies both the Jewish people and the presence of YHWH within his people.

In her book, Nanine Charbonnel shows that the evangelists wrote out … dramatized portraits with no consideration of their historical existence, which cannot be understood within the framework of legendary fiction or other traditional literary genres. The gospel narratives are thoroughly symbolic and composed within first century Judaism. The belief in a historical man called Jesus is mainly due to a hermeneutic confusion, i.e. what was actually figurative came to be read literally. The multiplicity of languages used in those days increased that misunderstanding. We are therefore invited to re-examine those unique masterpieces.

II.  A brief presentation of my research, THE GOSPELS AS MIDRASH

read more »


2020-03-05

The Gospel of Mark as a Dramatic Performance

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by Neil Godfrey

If we are serious about the idea of expanding our horizons with interdisciplinary studies, even those of ancient theatre, there is much that is thought-provoking here.

From time to time I encounter the idea that the Gospel of Mark was in some way related to dramatic performance or Greek tragedy. Mary Ann Beavis brings much of this literature together in her commentary on Mark (I have hyperlinked the bibliographical references):

A generic influence on Mark that may seem much more far-fetched to the modern reader is the suggestion that the Gospel resembles a Greek tragedy. Nonetheless, as noted above, many contemporary scholars see Mark as modeled on ancient drama (e.g., Bilezikian 1977; Standaert 1978; Stock 1982, 16–30; Beavis 1989, 31–35; S. Smith 1995; Lescow 2005 [link is to PDF]). Many others describe the Gospel more generally as having a dramatic quality (e.g., Perrin and Duling 1982, 237–39; Hengel 1985, 137; France 2002, 11–15; Burridge 2004, 239–40; Collins 2007, 91–93; for further references, see Beavis 1989, 192n134). Since Greek tragedy was very much a part of Greco-Roman education in the first century, it is plausible that Mark and the educated members of his audience would have had some familiarity with dramatic works, even if they had never attended a play, although attending theater was not confined to the upper classes in antiquity. Moreover, in Mark’s time the “closet drama,” a play written for private presentation rather than for public performance, was popular, at least among the social elite: all of the plays of Seneca belong to this genre. As Stephen H. Smith (1995, 229) remarks, “Mark’s Gospel was written with just this kind of situation in mind—to be read expressively by a lector before a closed circle of Christians in the setting of a private house” (cf. Beavis 1989, 33–35). As I have noted elsewhere,

If the author were a Jewish-Christian from Palestine, as the tradition asserts, there is no reason to rule out the influence of the theatre; Herod the Great built theatres in Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Sepphoris, Damascus, and Sidon. There are records of Roman Jewish actors, and hellenistic Jews, like their Gentile neighbours, were avid theatre-goers. It has been argued that Job, Judith, 4 Maccabees, and the Apocalypse were modelled on Greek tragedy; the Alexandrian Jewish dramatist Ezekiel wrote a play based on the Exodus story. (Beavis 1989, 35)

In fact, Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagōgē, a drama about the Exodus written sometime between the second century BC and the first century AD by an Egyptian Jew, is the most complete surviving example of a Hellenistic tragedy (R. Robinson 1985, 805). Unlike the Exagōgē, Mark is not a play, but a Scripturelike narrative; however, as Collins (2007, 91) puts it, Mark is “written in the tragic mode,” and the Gospel’s plotting and structure show dramatic influence (see the section on structure below).

From that section below on structure . . .

. . . . Like an ancient drama, Mark begins and ends with a welldefined prologue (1:1–13) and epilogue (16:1–8). The first half of the narrative corresponds to the desis (“complication”) of a Greek tragedy, “the part from the beginning up to the point which immediately preceded the occurrence of a change from bad to good fortune or from good fortune to bad” (Aristotle, Poet. 18.2, trans. Halliwell 1927). In Mark, this corresponds with the Galilean mission (1:14–8:26), where Jesus teaches, preaches, and performs healings, miracles, and exorcisms with great success. This section of the Gospel is punctuated by choral outbursts from the crowds and the disciples, such as “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” (1:27; 2:12b; 4:41; 7:37). Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi (8:27–29) is a classic recognition scene (anagnōrisis), the discovery of an identity previously concealed—Jesus is the messiah (see Aristotle, Poet. 11, 16). This incident marks a “change of fortune” (“reversal,” peripeteia); immediately after Peter’s confession, for the first time, Jesus prophesies the suffering, death, and resurrection of the son of man (8:31–33). According to Aristotle, a recognition scene “is most effective when it coincides with reversals, . . .

As I have noted elsewhere, whether the author intended it or not, the physical layout of the Gospel “resembles that of a five-act Hellenistic play, with the place of the four choruses taken by teaching scenes” (Beavis 1989, 163). . . .

Beavis, Mary Ann. 2011. Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. pp. 16-17, 25-26.

The above summary by Beavis was indirectly cited by Danila Oder in her book, The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text. Danila knows how theatre works. She has both studied playwriting and worked as an actor. In her book on the Gospel of Mark as performance and text Danila examines in painstaking detail how the Gospel of Mark might have been performed in an ancient Roman theatre. I found the insights of someone who has worked in theatre and clearly has an in-depth knowledge of ancient theatre a fascinating exploration of possibilities behind our gospel text. An entirely new world opened up to me through this book.

Note: Danila does not say that our current text of the gospel was written as a drama. Hence the title of her book, The Two Gospels of Mark. There is enough in the way our canonical text has been associated with ancient drama (see the links above) to lead one to seriously consider the possibility that what we are reading today is a summary or prose encapsulation of a play. Danila discusses what scenes in our received text are stageable and which ones are not, and why the unstageable ones have been added to the original work. Readers are given a clear picture of what the stage setting would have looked like, the role of the chorus and even the audience. I was keen to try to capture in my mind’s eye how it all would have appeared in performance so happily a proposed text for dramatic performance is included in an appendix. It’s a new world, a seriously fresh approach to the Gospel.

Much of what Danila Oder discusses must necessarily be hypothetical but it is nonetheless tightly argued and does oblige one to consider possibilities that are currently outside the standard view. If we are serious about the idea of expanding our horizons with interdisciplinary studies, even those of ancient theatre, there is much that is thought-provoking here.


Oder, Danila. 2019. The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text. Los Angeles: Domus Press.


 


2020-03-04

Facebook group: Historical Jesus and Higher Criticism

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by Neil Godfrey

If any readers here are members of the Facebook group Historical Jesus and Higher Criticism I would appreciate it if you could go to that group to see if I have been banned or somehow had my membership of that group deleted. I was in mid-conversation with someone there over whether Josephus depicts messianic movements in the first century CE and was taken aback to be met with a quite hostile response, laced with personal insults and put-downs, and suddenly, poof, I no longer have access. Maybe, hopefully, the hostile tone was only a coincidence and a passing thing and that my loss of access was nothing more than a technical hitch and we can resume cordial and civil discussion.


2020-03-02

Declaration of the Freedom of Mind

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by Neil Godfrey

I found this declaration on https://medium.com/@bandyxlee/declaration-of-the-freedom-of-mind-f093fa0cd711 — Quite a revolutionary idea, yes?

. . . .

Written by Bandy X. Lee (Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (dangerouscase.org), and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”)

This statement originated from a meeting with citizen organizers in New York City on President’s Day, February 17, 2020, when we noted a public not lacking in resources or will but gripped with disappointment, demoralization, and despair at a government’s lack of concern for its citizens. The failure to grasp a problem of mental health had resulted in the failure of a political process (impeachment), and the psychological oppression of a populace was proving to be the most pernicious form of oppression of all. The phenomenon of oppression is no different from what our Founders experienced at the time of the Revolutionary War, but it needs updating, taking into account the psychological weapons that have become available. To help protect the most sacred right to freedom of mind, along with the nurturance and societal support that make it possible, we offer a tool for citizen groups to identify correctly and target precisely the problem, by drafting the following.

We at the World Mental Health Coalition believe that freedom of mind is a basic human right. It is at the core of all other freedoms and is fundamental to a working democracy. Without it, all rational systems break down. It is a right that is derived from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We declare that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the human right to freedom of mind are the principal cause of public disempowerment and oppression by governments. People denied of agency become easy tools of those intent on ruling, rather than serving, them. When this happens, police and prisons are no longer necessary: people themselves enthusiastically volunteer to their own servitude.

We therefore announce a solemn declaration of the natural, unalienable, and sacred human right to freedom of mind, as a derivation of the above Declarations. We aspire toward reminding the people continually that they have this right, that political bodies should not abuse or suppress it, and that social systems ought to protect and nurture it. With this awareness, we believe that the people, based on the simple laws of nature, will be empowered to live out their full potential to the happiness of all.

Therefore the World Mental Health Coalition recognizes and upholds the following human right to freedom of mind:

1. As stated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience and the obligation to act towards one another in a humane spirit.

2. Everyone is entitled to make informed decisions for themselves. The people shall have access to information and the best available knowledge, including expertise, so that they can make informed choices about health care, education, distribution of wealth, and organization of power or other decisions that affect them. Access to information and knowledge is critical to the people’s ability to secure conditions that are necessary for their collective health, including mental health.

3. No one shall be held in mental slavery or servitude. Without being agents of their own minds, a people cannot make reasoned judgments and decisions that will help their situations. When information control, mass manipulation through lying, and thought reform are allowed to occur, mass hysteria and cults of personality replace informed, autonomous rule.

4. The people shall retain the right to have a wholesome environment for the mind. An environment that is flooded with false information, manipulative techniques, and malign psychological conditioning injures their mental health and stunts their ability to reach their full mental potential. Mental health professionals shall make recommendations for maintaining and reclaiming mental health and self-reliance.

5. Law is an expression of the general will. The people have a right to participate personally, or through a representative, in shaping laws that protect freedom of mind and prevent its slavery. Information from journalists, professionals, and whistleblowers increases freedom of mind and needs to be protected. Propaganda and large-scale psychological abuse and oppression should be identified and curtailed, just as other forms of violence and abuse, as impingement on others’ rights, are punishable by law.

6. Since freedom of mind is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived of it, actively or passively. Children shall be nurtured for healthy mental development, safety, and supportive education so that they may build autonomy and critical thinking skills. Adults shall be treated with dignity, whereby no locus of control shall be external, rather than internal, whether coerced or manipulated.

7. We recognize that society, as a whole, is far from perfect in mental health and that a healing process is necessary for even the awareness of mental health matters to grow. There shall be no abridging of speech, of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble around matters that affect their mental health.

. . .

Recommendation: Precisely at a time when the president is using his power to conceal Russian schemes to reelect him, and to muzzle health officials before an impending pandemic, this statement is all the more relevant. Use it to claim your rights! While we are seeking a governmental body or international organization to adopt it, it is our official interpretation, as a professional organization of mental health experts, of your rights.


2020-02-27

If your comment gets lost

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by Neil Godfrey

Repeating this post:

Please accept our sincere apologies if any of your comments aren’t posted to the blog immediately. Recently, we have been weathering a spam tsunami, and our current settings may be triggering some false positives. As we work things out, you could experience delays.

If a significant amount of time goes by, and you still haven’t seen your comment appear, drop us a line via email or ping us on Facebook.

  • Neil: neilgodfrey1 [AT] gmail [DOT] com
  • Tim: widowfield [AT] gmail [DOT] com
  • https://www.facebook.com/vridar/

As always, thanks for reading Vridar. We always appreciate your input and your support.

 


For My Dad and Mum: How Great Thou Art

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by Neil Godfrey

Allow me a moment’s indulgence. This was the favourite hymn of my father (he loved to sing) and was sung at his funeral too many years ago. It was also my mother’s favourite, and today we sang it at her funeral.

It leaves me teary.


2020-02-26

Q debate: some sources

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by Neil Godfrey

For those interested in the Q debate the following is adapted from a footnote in Andrejevs, Olegs. 2019. Apocalypticism in the Synoptic Sayings Source: A Reassessment of Q’s Stratigraphy. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. (p. 1)

For recent arguments against the 2DH, see, e.g.,

For responses to these scholars, see, e.g.,

(for Watson’s rejoinder, see “Seven Theses on the Synoptic Problem, in Disagreement with Christopher Tuckett,” in Idem, 139^47).

For classic comprehensive cases in support of the 2DH, see

For recent investigations demonstrating the viability of the 2DH, see

For additional recent statements by Q scholars, see

While a close discussion of the synoptic problem lies outside the scope of this monograph, it is perhaps worth emphasizing that the solutions of Goodacre and Watson are equally, if not more so, hypothetical than the 2DH.