Something I’ve been wanting to start for ages is a compilation of notes from Wesselius’ book as much for my own interest as others. I know it’s not the most popular hypothesis in biblical studies, but gosh it is interesting and at least thought provoking, i think. By the time I finish I may well decide it has not a leg to stand on. That’s no worries. Either way, I am sure I will have learned much more about the relevant literary and archaeological and other worlds by the time I reach that point. But an opportunity came up in iidb for me to find an excuse to make a start, and this is it– just a start only! Let’s go…. with a view to refinement, elaboration, embarrassing deletions, up ahead…..
It is widely assumed that the endings we know of Mark (16:8), John and Acts cannot have been the ones originally intended but after reading “Classical Closure: Reading the End in Greek and Latin Literature” edited by Deborah H. Roberts, Francis M. Dunn, and Don Fowler (1997) I have less confidence in that assumption. Nowhere are Mark, Acts and John discussed in the book and the extrapolations below are entirely my own.
In the book Carolyn Dewald discussion of “Strategies of Meaning at the End of Herodotus’s Histories” struck me as raising the same sorts of questions over Herodotus’s ending as are raised over the present endings of Mark and Acts. Herodotus leaves his work in mid-air too. This could only have been intentional since Herodotus throughout his work manages to consistently draw many satisfying conclusions to his many story sections. The question that arises then is what Herodotus was wanting to achieve by way of response from his audience by not framing a formal final conclusion to his work. ‘Histories’ can be read more accurately as a kind of theological tragedy than as a history in a modern sense. It is about the fate of Athenians and their lot within the common destinies of mankind, and their future is left in doubt. The mid-air ending of Histories inevitably left the questions about how one understood the present and future as uncertain and as issues to be questioned in the light of all that had just been read.
Francis M. Dunn discusses the ending of Euripides’ Heracles is tormentingly ambiguous and incomplete, so much so that there have long been many attempts rearrange the text or re-write the ending. The ending is indecisive and the audience has no way of knowing if it is meant to see Heracles as a failure or a hero let alone what sort of future is in store for him. Again, it appears that the author was by this means seeking to provoke a certain type of response in the audience to the deeper questions raised in the play.
Philip Hardie has much to say about the Virgil’s Aeneid and hellenistic fiction in general that is also reminiscent of issues that arise in the scholarship relating to the endings of Mark, John and Acts. He writes: “Ancient novels use many paratextual devices, usually to give a sense of (historiographic) authenticity to the fiction …” By paratextual devices he means those sorts of intrusive authorial comments we find in John 20:30-31. With this consideration the disputed ending of John can then be read as something like: “I can’t possibly write about everything but I have to add just one more thing before I close…. ”
The Aeneid is another case of an abrupt “improper” ending leaving the reader on the point of lurching in mid-air. Hardie says the more appropriate ending has been already written and is tucked away in Book 8 with its prophecies of the future history of Rome and Augustus. Deaths always need a resolution of some kind, a new treaty or funeral etc. but in the Aeneid we have the treaty of peace being made near the beginning of the story and the death it is meant to follow is at the end. Not only so, but there are many textual allusions in the final scenes that echo those found in the opening scenes thus reassuring the reader/listener that this ending really is as intended however unconventional it is. So Mark was by no means the first to create an unconventional story with suitable endings in the middle and an ending that leaves readers hanging, and wondering, and scrambling back over all they have read before to find its meaning.
The obvious objection is that Mark is alone in ending his work with that conjunction ‘gar’. Maybe so, but “Classical Closures” leaves less assurance that the endings we find problematic in Mark, John and Acts were not originally intended to be just as they are.
I pulled out again my copy of “Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity” (ed. by Dennis R. MacDonald) thinking to write a layman’s review of its collection of contributions but got sidetracked (again) on re-reading Gregory J. Riley’s chapter, “Mimesis of Classical Ideals in the Second Century”. Some of Riley’s work totally rivets me with comments that provoke new thoughts; some of it leaves me totally flat. This chapter is one of the former. I will have to do a fuller discussion of this asap.
Till asap comes along, I am currently rethinking possibly the earliest surviving literary episode in the life of Jesus, his baptism as told in the Gospel of Mark. John the Baptist there is portrayed as someone of utmost “greatness”: he functions way out in the wilderness, yet despite that “all the land of Judea” went out to see him and submit to him in baptism. Now that is a graphic scene. It is no doubt fictional, or some might wish to say it contains a core of historical truth in that the exaggeration hints at least “lots” of people went out to the wilderness to be baptized. But Mark is telling the story and he creates a picture of the “whole land of Judea” coming out to John in the wilderness, to a man standing outside and in opposition to the city life (“and those from Jerusalem”) with his camel cloak and wild honey diet.
But his message escalates this scene of a truly remarkable man.– His message is about one “who is even greater” who is yet to follow after him! He underscores the point: he, such a great man, will not even be worthy to stoop to loose the sandal of the super-great one to come.
And that even greater one is, of course, the one we know will be from the beginning, from heaven itself even, declared the beloved Son of God himself.
What does all this have to do with a Greek-Roman classical ideal?
Riley writes, “a righteous and powerful Son of God is persecuted by unjust authorities, divine and human, faces his own horrible death with courage, and overcomes. This is not an Israelite story, but it is the oldest and most inspiring plot-line in Greco-Roman literature.” (p.95)
Dare we see the opening scene in Mark as yet another one of “the oldest and most inspiring plot-lines in Greco-Roman literature”? The opening scene of the Iliad was about a son of a goddess (a man-god), Achilles, whose refusal to submit, despite repeated pleas, to the greatest king, Agamemnon, one greater in authority despite Achilles being the far greater in parentage and ultimate personal worth and nobility of (Greek classical) character.
If so, then surely the “criteria of embarrassment” arguments in the literature that attach themselves to the baptism of Jesus beg for re-evaluation at least. Mark demonstrates NO such embarrassment at all. In fact he pushes as hard as he can into the readers/hearers’ faces that the Greater is submitting to the Lesser here!
There is so much to elaborate on here. I know, I have tossed out idle spec on this scene elsewhere, but I would love to do up a much fuller exploration of this and the other ideals expressed in the Christian myth that clearly repackaged and presented anew some of the highest ideals of classical antiquity. (As Burton Mack and others have written, it also included in that package much that was ruinous, too.) But I’m keen to follow through Riley’s argument in this and other aspects of the founding myth of Christianity.
(P.S. It seems almost flippant to comment (i know, again) here that that opening book in the Iliad, iirc, concludes with Agamemnon ordering the ritual washing of all his armed followers — the only one who removes himself from the camp and does not comply is, of course, Achilles.)
gospel+of+mark, gospel_of_mark, gospelofmark, gospel.of.mark, johnthebaptist, john_the_baptist, john+the+baptist, Iliad, Agamemnon, Achilles, baptism+of+jesus, jesus+baptism
I did succumb to the temptation to reply to a thread of a debate over whether or not a “historical jesus” existed. Below is what I wrote. Maybe in the next day or two when I return to this I will see glaring logical and factual flaws. But till I do, i do invite any passers-by who may happen to be reading this to put in their 2 cents/hundred-dollars’s worth…… (the bit at the top in the square brackets and related to ‘peter kirby’ are the immediate comment i was responding to in iidb)…..
[QUOTE=Peter Kirby;4010439]I am a naturalist, not a metaphysician. I approach this within such framework. If there was a Santa, or a Jesus, it is not the god which you are exercised to declaim.
In any case, the original question concerned what Paul believed, which is certainly a question for historical inquiry. Instead of advancing that question, what you and gurugeorge have posted serves only to obfuscate with this `burden of proof’ dime store philosophy.
“Silly substitution method” and “dime store philosophy” are denigrations of Kimpatsu’s argument that appear to arise from a misunderstanding of it. If you are a naturalist you do not believe in a god or gods or god-men or sons of god any more than you believe in the tooth fairy.
Some historical figures did attach to themselves mythical labels like “gods” etc but we do not start with those mythical labels to establish their historicity. Nor do we start with one or two references whose authenticity is hotly disputed to establish their historicity.
The only reason we treat a son of a god or god-man figure differently from our historical foundations for other known figures is the power that that god-man figure has in our culture. That it takes books like Wells’ and Doherty’s to begin to alert us to the difference between statements of logic (‘tooth fairies don’t exist’ vs ‘tooth fairies do exist’: “these are equally plausible logical statements that require competing arguments for us to decide”) from statement of knowledge (the sun will rise tomorrow, tooth fairies do not exist, god-men or men possessed by gods or sons of god do not exist) is a bizarre indictment on the power of that myth in our 20-21st century culture.
It ought to be a no-brainer to even ask the question “did a historical Jesus exist”. We simply have nothing to begin any quest with. All we have a theological writings about a theological or metaphysical (not historical) person.
Even if there was a historical Jesus for whom we no longer have any evidence (does anyone still believe one can establish a “historical” jesus out of the theological and metaphysical constructs of which our evidence consists?) that question has simply become irrelevant and pointless.
The much more interesting question, one for which we do have evidence with which to work, is the origins of Christianity question. The cause of naturalism and science will be better served by secular historians not leaving it to “religionists” to explore the question of the origins of Christianity.
Valid historical method does not waste its energies trying to find something for which we have no evidence and that defies all basic precepts of naturalism.
The “did jesus exist” question is a distracting waste of time from the real question about the origins of Christianity. The only purpose the ‘did jesus exist’ question serves is, as alluded to above, to prise our culturally bound thought processes back into logical sanity and common sense knowledge in relation to ALL metaphysical constructs, even those bound up in our seemingly otherwise inescapable cultural heritage.
Thinking through more what is meant by those who say that a search for some “historical core” is a viable one. It’s surely not. It would mean:
1. assuming that literature about the character in question and within a certain time frame of the time of that character is a priori grounds for assuming such a person existed; and
2. assuming that the type of character that existed is established by removing from that literature whatever is said about him that is implausible or impossible; and
3. assuming that if there is no other evidence that disproves that the character left over from steps 1 and 2 existed, then we can take that character as “the historical core”?
Hoo boy, if that’s a fair summary then one can “prove” that there is a “historical core” to the Little Red Riding Hood story. When will we learn to go beyond naive readings of texts and learn to understand basic principles of cultural studies, textual and literary criticism and historical — not to mention scientific — method.
I have held off posting on IIDB’s thread on the search for an historical core to Christian/Jesus origins until just now when I asked how one might define “historical core” and how one might know when one has found it. The whole question seems to me to be making assumptions about the methods of historical investigation that cannot be justified. But I need time to collect my thoughts on it more thoroughly before posting on it, if I ever do. The term seems to suggest that the way historians interpret and evaluate evidence can establish something that really is beyond that evidence and the constructs of the historians.
I fail to understand how starting at a later point and working back is any more likely to arrive at such a historical core — If the root reasons for not establishing some common understanding of Christian origins has more to do with unscientific approaches to historical method in so much of what passes for biblical scholarship and the paucity of evidence, then aren’t we just going to end up reaching the same impasse only from the opposite direction?
(But I don’t want to go the way of being absurdly post-modernistic on this or sounding that way. Some constructs can be more than just theoretical. A person shot another person may be a construct but it’s also a reality beyond the construct. )
I have been feeling a bit uncomfortable with my last post on the we-passages in Acts. I originally wrote all that up over a year ago at least now, and I am having doubts I have really incorporated in my essay a way of testing my interpretation and evaluating it rigorously enough against alternative hypotheses. I am not surprised that in approaching my essay afresh after such a long break that I would want to revise bits here and there and even add some extras, but I will take the next few days to think it through a lot more rigorously before I post more of it.
Is there any such beast as a scholarly discussion of the ‘New Testament’ gospels and epistles as possible direct continuations of the ‘Old Testament’s’ intellectual world?
I’m thinking of Thomas L. Thompson’s ‘Mythic Past‘: “Both theologically and referentially, most of the texts that were to become the Christian Bible’s Old Testament belong to an intellectual world that holds the New Testament in common….. Most of the works that belong to these ‘testaments’ reflect a single biblical tradition that has its roots in what is widely understood as early Jewish intellectual history. They relate to each other as older and younger contemporaries within a common discourse. The discussions about tradition that we find in the New Testament are not reinterpretations of a closed past. They are part of an ongoing transmission common to the whole of biblical tradition.” (p.289)
If the literature of ‘the old testament’ is essentially a metaphor (mythic creation?) of ‘a new and true remnant ‘Israel’ replacing an old and failed and vanished ‘Israel’ as part of an identification ‘program’ for an uprooted people settled beside ‘strangers’ who are sometimes godfearing and often antagonistic, then is it unreasonable to explore the possibility that the gospels are essentially an extension of this identification ‘program’ for a post 70 ce generation? And if valid, does such a perspective change or add to any ‘mythic’ portrayal of Jesus as hitherto understood?
One of many “arguments” brought out to support the case that Jesus really was an historical character is the “recording” of his brothers’ names in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. I like the choice of the words like “recorded” or “reported” or their synonyms that are so often used in this context. They connote the idea of conveying fact like a newsreader or historian.
But how do we “know” Jesus’s brother’s names? The only source for these names is a book (Matthew clearly copied straight from the bulk of Mark so cannot count as an independent source) that appears to be riddled with typology and symbolic names (e.g. Jairus meaning enlightened, Bar-Timaeus meaning son of honour) and fly-by-night characters whose only role is to illustrate theological points (e.g. the naked man fleeing, the name Peter, those healed…) ; and that is written in a style largely redolent of a popular ancient novel.
Of course none of this necessarily means the names are not historical, but it surely cuts the ground from under any over-confidence that we “know Jesus had brethren and here are their names”.
By assuming that because these names are listed in Mark they therefore must originate in historical fact aren’t we continuing the line of argument that we “know” Abraham and Moses and Solomon (why not add Adam and Eve?) existed because the bible authors must have got them from “somewhere”?
Does the nature and purpose of the gospel of Mark really give cause to quickly assume the characters it names are historical? There many have been a Bartimaeus and a Jairus, or even a Joseph of Arimathaea and a Judas Iscariot, maybe even an Abraham and Isaac, an Odysseus and Penelope, but we obviously we can’t say we “know” there were simply on the basis that their names appear in narratives that are most strongly characterized by their mythical or figurative or other non-historical purposes.
Should add, I suppose, that I do not doubt the historicity of some characters in Mark (e.g. Pilate) since that was standard fare for popular literature then just as it is for many novels today. Nor am I saying the Gospel of Mark is strictly a popular novel, though it does appear to share more in common with that ancient genre than any other.
How justifiable is it to compare the arguments of the “Copenhagen School” that suggests the evidence favours, say, David being a theological and literary creation with certain arguments of the “Jesus mythicists”?
I’m thinking of Thompson’s “It is a fundamental error of method to ask first after an historical David or Solomon, as biblical archaeologists and historians have done. We need first to attend to the David and Solomon we know: the protagonists of Bible story and legend. The Bible does not hesitate to tell these stories as tall tales.” (The Mythic Past, p.45)
Compare Davies’ “So far, historical research by biblical scholars has taken a … circular route …. The assumption that the literary construct is an historical one is made to confirm itself. Historical criticism (so-called) of the inferred sources and traditions seeks to locate these in that literary-cum-historical construct.” (In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’, pp.35-37)
If we accept the nature of the old testament biblical literature as suggested by Thompson, Davies, Lemche et al (i.e. that it was composed largely as a literary founding myth which bears little if any relationship to real history — check out my above link to In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ for links to details), is it not a small step to seeing the first gospel as equally creative in its foundation myths for the ‘new and true people of God’? Are not the studies of the Gospel of Mark that offer the greater explanatory power for its various parts and characters those that analyze its literary context and nature (e.g. Tolbert’s Sowing the Gospel) in ways that leave much of the older discussions about traditions underlying various bits and pieces somewhat irrelevant?
Should not the real question ask for the origins and context of such a literary work, leaving it open as to whether the most satisfactory answer is to be found with a heroic founder or with something more complex, as some argue was the case with the literature about David?
One initial objection might be that the multiplicity of varying gospels argues against such a possibility but again we may well be reading the same phenomonon of rival scribal schools in dialog with one another as we appear to find among the OT prophetic and historical writings.
(I originally asked this question back in 2000 in JesusMysteries — my thoughts have only strengthened in this direction since.)
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:
- essentially a being whose true identity was not meant to be recognized when he appeared on earth;
- essentially a being who was meant to be incomprehensible;
- who gave secret teachings to his disciples;
- 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;
- 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);
- essentially a being whose appearance on earth was marked by events that were forordained or patterned in heaven;
- 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?
gospel_of_mark, gospel+of+mark, gospelofmark, gnostic_gospels, gnostic+gospels, gnosticgospels, nag_hammadi, nag+hammadi, naghammadi, gospel.of.mark, gnostic.gospels, hag.hammadi
Paul’s lack of interest in the physical life of Jesus is often explained as a consequence of 2 Corinthians 5:16 “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Chrsit according to the flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer.”
Fair enough, let’s accept that. But then what does that say about Paul himself?
One might think after reading 2 Cor. 5:16 that his focus is always on Christ in heaven and that one’s earthly existence is not worth thinking about, let alone study.
But not so. Paul was clearly interested in using his own life in the flesh as a model of the life of Christ for his readers. Philippians 1:20 “So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life of by death”. He is keen to talk about how his own life in the flesh shares in the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil.3:8-10).
Paul will not hesitate to boast about his life in the flesh when it comes to proving his authority over his churches (2 Cor.11:22-33) but cannot find anything he must have heard about the life or teachings of Christ to persuade his readers to keep the faith.
So Paul thinks his own life demonstrates Christ more effectively than Christ’s life itself ever did for the benefit of his readers? Continue reading “Paul believed his own life was of more value than Christ’s”
The first we-passage: Acts 16:10-17
“Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she constrained us. Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”” (New King James Version)
The First “We” reference:
The anonymous “we” intrudes unexpectedly here after Paul’s party, hitherto addressed as “they”, have completed their Jerusalem-ordained mission. After delivering the Jerusalem decrees (Acts 15:23, 30, 41) to these churches and seeing them all now duly strengthened and prospering happily — “so the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (16:5 – c.f. 2:46-47; 5:42; 6:7; 12:24; 14:21-22) — Paul’s party, “they”, suddenly find themselves lost in a maze. Everywhere they turn leads to a dead-end. Continue reading “The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman Audience Interpretation. Pt 5”
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
Justin+Martyr, JustinMartyr, Christian+origins