The Messiah figure (or Christ) in the Book of Enoch, specifically in the Parables or Similitudes section of that book, has several attributes and performs certain functions that make him a precursor of the Christ figure who became the focus of Christianity.
Paul’s understanding of who and what Christ was appears to have been influenced by the Book of Parables in 1 Enoch. Paul says that his gospel was revealed to him so it is easy to assume that either God revealed Christ to him in a vision or that he developed his own Christ concept to preach. However, the similarities of his Christ with the Christ/Messiah in Enoch are striking. Moreover, the same Enochic literature teaches that Christ is a figure unknown except to those to whom he is revealed from heaven. Or was he revealed to Paul, at least in part, through the Book of Enoch?
This account of at least one Jewish group’s beliefs about the Messiah before the time of Paul (and Jesus) is taken from The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios by James A. Waddell. The previous post in this series is here.
First things first. Let’s establish where in the Parables of Enoch (or Book of Parables, BP) we read the actual term “Messiah” or “Christ” — meaning “Anointed One”. The word occurs twice:
And he said unto me: ‘All these things which thou hast seen shall serve the dominion of His Anointed that he may be potent and mighty on the earth.’
We shall see through this series that this Christ, the Anointed One, is also named the Righteous One, the Chosen One, the Son of Man, and Name of the Lord of Spirits. We begin to look at some of the attributes or nature of this being in this post, and then we will (courtesy of Waddell) study the functions, the role, of this Messiah.
A Human Being
The Messiah in the Book of Enoch is a human being. It is the man Enoch himself who is (near the end of the book) declared to the Messiah himself. Enoch is the sixth human generation after Adam, or the seventh, counting inclusively. The human nature of Enoch is driven home in the following:
1 Enoch 37:1
The second vision which he saw, the vision of wisdom — which Enoch the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, saw.
Compare 60:8 (Noah speaking)
the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created.
So Enoch, we are emphatically assured, belongs to the human race. He is a descendant of Adam.
The Christ we read about in the letters of the Apostle Paul has many striking similarities to another Christ we read about in the earlier Second Temple Jewish Book of the Parables of Enoch. So much so that James A. Waddell, Philip Markowicz Visiting Professor of Jewish Biblical Studies at the University of Toledo, argues in The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios that Paul belonged to that stream of Jewish intellectual tradition that developed its concept of Christ, the Messiah, out of the messiah traditions we read about in the Book of Enoch.
(The Book of Parables is also known as the Similitudes of Enoch. In this post I will follow Waddell and use BP to refer to this text.)
Some readers will immediately ask if the Enochic Book of Parables is too late. Is it not from a post-Gospel era? Waddell informs those of us who still think this that we are out of date:
Only recently has specific research on the date of BP created a shift in the scholarly consensus among specialists of the Enoch literature. This consensus established the messiah traditions of BP, if not the text itself, to a date prior to Paul. (p. 22 of The Messiah)
Waddell’s book was published in 2010 and his claim about the scholarly consensus is supported by reference to half a dozen articles in Boccaccini’s Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man (2008) among a list of earlier publications.
To me, and I am sure to many others, questions of dating are important. So this post attempts primarily to explain Waddell’s rationale (presumably shared by many of his peers) for dating the BP to a pre-Christian era. The next post will begin to examine the nature of the Christ/Messiah as understood before Paul among the Jews associated with this document.
Maurice Casey’s ‘Son of Man’ arguments
Other readers may wonder about the stress upon the “Son of Man” in both the above titles given that (1) Paul never uses the “Son of Man” in relation to Christ, and (2) Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey is reputed to have written “the definitive” work on the Son of Man and supposedly buries any notion that “son of man” was employed as a messianic title up to and including the time of Jesus. As for (1), Waddell’s thesis includes a cogent theological explanation why Paul would have shunned the term in relation to his Christ; as for (2), Waddell exposes inconsistencies in Casey’s treatment of the evidence and generally leaves Casey’s approach to the question looking tendentious indeed.
Larry Hurtado’s ‘worship’ arguments
Another contemporary Emeritus Professor addressed by Waddell is Larry Hurtado. Waddell agrees with Hurtado’s case that the evidence argues that the Christ Jesus was worshiped “from the moment of the Easter experience” (jargon designed to harmonize the Gospel-Acts narrative with modern rationalist sensibilities) for the beginning of Christianity, but rejects Hurtado’s complementary claim that the worship of any other figure apart from God himself was unknown among Jews before Christianity. Waddell argues that evidence contradicting a scholar’s personal faith has been treated tendentiously. The BP do indeed depict early Jewish worship of a being alongside God.
Having traced Couchoud’s argument for the development of the New Testament it’s time I returned to the beginning of his two volume work, The Creation of Christ, and outline his views on the development of Christianity itself. (The entire series is archived here.)
I once posted links to pdf version of Couchoud’s opening chapters:
Foreword (approx 2.2 MB pdf)
Apocalypses (168 b.c. – a.d. 40)
I. Preliminary (approx 1.8 MB pdf)
II. Profaned Temple (approx 2.2 MB pdf)
III. The Dream of Daniel (approx 3.3 MB pdf)
IV. Revelations of Enoch (approx 6.7 MB pdf)
V. Revelations of Moses (approx 2.8 MB pdf)
[Since posting the above I have removed each of the above links. Thanks to Frank Zindler the full first volume of Couchoud’s Creation of Christ is now accessible on my Vridar.info site. The second volume is also available. Both links are direct to downloading PDF files. — Neil Godfrey, 22nd July, 2019]
I will comment on only a few aspects of some of these chapters. Read them — they are not long — to understand Couchoud’s argument for the background to Christianity and the references to much of what is below. I will only address a few points here.
It was at the opening of the 20th century that the first serious presentations of the Jesus Myth theory appeared. The earliest efforts by such as Robertson, Drews, Jensen and Smith were, from a modern point of view, less than perfect, lacking a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of the issue. Pre-Christian cults, astral religions, obscure parallels with foreign cultures, even the epic of Gilgamesh, went into a somewhat hodge-podge mix; many of them didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Paul. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Paul-Louis Couchoud in France offered a more coherent scenario, identifying Christ in the eyes of Paul as a spiritual being. (While not relying upon him, I would trace my type of thinking back to Couchoud, rather than the more recent G. A. Wells who, in my opinion, misread Paul’s understanding of Christ.)
Prior to Wells, the mythicist whose views were closest to my own was Paul-Louis Couchoud who wrote in the 1920s, though I took my own fresh run at the question and drew very little from Couchoud himself.
One of the reasons I am interested in this topic of visionary experiences is that they help flesh out a tangible environment, on the basis of concrete evidence, from which Christianity emerged. This is in contrast to the model of “oral traditions” being the roots of the canonical gospel narratives. The gospel narratives stand at an opposing polarity from the idea of salvation through a heavenly vision of the divine. April DeConick’s book, Voices of the Mystics, around which this and my previous posts are put together, argues that in the Gospel of John we find strong indications of a debate with Thomasine Christians who did uphold a central importance of the visionary experience. (Note, for example, the criticism of Thomas for believing only because he has seen.)
How do we account for Christianity growing out of Judaism yet being so unlike Judaism? Part of one possible answer lies in the recognition that there was no normative Judaism as we understand it prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Noncanonical Second Temple writings such as the Book of Enoch point to the existence of Jewish sectarians who had radically different ideas about contemporary Temple practices and priesthood, cosmology, the law, wisdom, even the angelic world and Godhead prior to the rise of rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. Margaret Barker and others have noticed quite a few distinctively Christian ideas resonating in some of these early books such as the Book of Enoch and that came to be sidelined by later Jewish rabbis. We know, of course, that the Book of Enoch is even quoted in New Testament writings.
This post continues earlier ones taken from a 1981 Journal of Biblical Literature article by George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee”. (Note, though, that I am not reproducing many of N’s details. This post is only a selection of the points he makes.)
It considers the details of Peter’s commissioning as the Rock of the Church in the context of narratives found in Enoch and their adaptations again later in the Testament of Levi (pre-Christian version). Peter emerges as a possible replacement to the High Priest of the Temple, which was, of course, doomed to destruction. The story of Peter and his role in the Gospel of Matthew, at least, grew out of that branch of Jewish religion that opposed the Temple practices and drew upon writings such as the Book of Enoch that did not make it into the rabbinic and later Christian orthodox canon.
I suspect the narrative was composed long after the temple’s destruction, and is an etiological tale to explain how the Church is now the new Temple and Kingdom of God with the Jews having been punished be destruction, slavery and scattering.
Strelan’s article on the Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark led me to a 1981 article by George W. E. Nickelsburg of particular interest: Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee (JBL 100/4 (1981) 575-600). I suspect Nickelsburg is touching on aspects of the Book of Enoch that ought to have major significance for the question of Christian origins, and in particular for the origin of the geographic symbolism we encounter in the Gospel of Mark. The idea that Galilee represents the place of the Kingdom of God while Jerusalem is in bondage to archons and apostasy is not original to the Gospel of Mark. Mark seems to have inherited this among a number of other ideas from those we find also in the Book of Enoch.
But here I share just one detail from this article, one that has to do with the baptism of Jesus as the means of his entry into the narrative of the gospel.
This is Nickelsburg’s sentence that caught my eye:
At the sacred place, [Enoch] sits down by the waters — traditionally a place of revelation — and reads himself into a trance in which he is conveyed into the presence of God.
Here Milik (Le Testament de Lévi, Revue Biblique, 62 (1955) 405) is referenced as citing the following:
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year . . . as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
I was by the side of the great river, that is, the Tigris. I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in colour, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.
This post concludes the series of posts covering Strelan’s argument that Mark’s disciples are based on Enoch’s Fallen Watchers.
The Mount of Olives was “sacred space” for the author of the Gospel of Mark. This was the place where Jesus took Peter, James and John into to the revelation of the mystery of the signs — Mark 13:3 (the Little Apocalypse/Olivet Prophecy).
Called to Watch, but “like children of the earth” fall asleep
So for the fourth time (see previous post for the previous 3 times) Jesus takes Peter, James and John aside to be “with him” – (14:33). These three are thus appointed to stay awake with Jesus, just as Watchers are ordained to be awake in the presence of the Lord day and night.
Faithful watchers do not sleep.
12. Those who sleep not bless Thee: they stand before Thy glory and bless, praise, and extol, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Spirits: He filleth the earth with spirits.”‘ 13. And here my eyes saw all those who sleep not: they stand before Him and bless and say: ‘Blessed be Thou, and blessed be the name of the Lord for ever and ever.’
2. And on the four sides of the Lord of Spirits I saw four presences, different from those that sleep not
7. And round about were Seraphin, Cherubic, and Ophannin:
And these are they who sleep not
And guard the throne of His glory.
Here on the Mount of Olives Jesus addresses his head disciple by his real name, Simon, (not “Peter”), “thus suggesting the ambiguity of their relationship”. This is the same Simon who, in Mark 1:36 (as addressed in my previous and earlier posts) had, along with those “with him”, pursued (with hostile intent) Jesus, to turn him away from the desert place where he had gone to pray.
Now again we find Jesus alone praying. This time, however, Peter lacks the strength to pursue him aggressively, and falls asleep instead. The disciples, like the “children of the earth”, fall asleep. Jesus exhorts them to “watch and pray” (14:38) lest they enter temptation.
Watching and praying are the duties of Enoch’s Watchers and angels in general. Their task is to intercede for humans and bring their prayers to God — e.g. 1 Enoch 9:4-9; 15:1-2; Tobit 3:16, 12:12, 15.
Jesus alone is the true “son of the father” (14:36), or son of heaven. His disciples show themselves to be, instead, sons of the earth.
With this post I come closer to completing the series I began two months ago to share the contents of an article by Rick Strelan in the Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 20 (1999), titled The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark. Strelan argues that the Gospel of Mark’s disciples were based on the legend of the Fallen Watchers in the Book of Enoch. Both disciples and watchers were called to have special spiritual responsibilities and callings in the presence of God or the Son of God, and that both fell through attachment to the things and ways of this world. Strelan finds a number of details in common to associate Mark’s disciples, especially Peter, with the Fallen Watchers of Enoch.
My reason for posting this is simply that I found the article of interest. As I began to type notes from it to share here, a few questions about the strength of the arguments arose in my mind. I wondered if Strelan was attempting to oversell his case. Maybe that’s one reason I slowed up the pace of note-sharing. But I certainly don’t quickly discount the arguments. On a recent review of the article I noticed a few details that might be worth following up more seriously.
For example, Strelan interpreted the disciples “seeking” for Jesus (Mark 1:36) after he had gone AWOL the morning after healing Peter’s mother-in-law as “seeking with hostile intent”. I did not like this interpretation, but have since noted that the word Mark uses could well be read with ambiguity. It certainly can in other places be translated “persecute” (as well as eagerly seeking after a coveted prize.) This would justify at least the possibility that the disciples could have been seeking Jesus to “bring him back into their own house/ways/domesticity”. Now that surely sits well with what we find elsewhere throughout Mark — ambiguities. So maybe I was over hasty in dismissing Strelan’s interpretation after all.
So I am posting this now as something I find of interest, and presuming at least one or two others think of it the same way, and as an idea to be further explored and, if possible, tested.
In my last post I left off with this point:
At the foothills of Mount Hermon
The above confrontation between Jesus and Peter took place at Caesarea Philippi, which is near the foothills of Mount Hermon. An audience familiar with the book of Enoch would know that it was on Mount Hermon that the chief Watcher, Azazel, swore an oath with his 200 followers to descend to earth and marry the daughters of men.
1 Enoch 6:6
Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.
I’m taking notes from Strelan’s article without much modification and only little of my own comment. Readers can decide for themselves the strength of his case, how suggestive it might be . . . .
The Gospel of Mark
Rick Strelan sees the author of the Gospel of Mark, like the authors of the pseudepigraphic and Qumran writings, being most conscious of his time being the time of a faithless generation (Mark 9:19). The Gospel begins with a call to repentance, and follows with Jesus battling against and overcoming the powers that ruled and oppressed that generation. These powers of evil were demons, and according to the Enochian legend of the Watchers, were the offspring of fallen angels and human women (Mark 3:22-27).
Like the Enochian Son of Man in Enoch, Jesus gathers angel-disciples around him and gives them authority to cast out demons and unclean spirits (3:15; 6:7). But they can only execute that authority if they are faithful (9:14-29).
The gospel is about faithless generation in a time of testing. The disciples (and Mark’s Christian audience) are tested by persecutions, cares of the world and the desire for riches (4:14-19). Jesus’ followers are commanded to Watch.
He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:12)
He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? (Mark 9:19)
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. (Mark 13:37)
The Watchers legend was used to condemn illicit priestly marriages. Strelan suggests the possibility that Mark had something like this in mind from the several times he does very strictly address marriage and sexual issues:
John the Baptist was executed over his condemnation of Herod’s marriage (6:14-29)
Jesus is very strict on divorce and remarriage (10:2-12)
Jesus calls his followers to stand out from “this adulterous and sinful generation” (8:38)
The sins Jesus singles out include illicit sex, adultery, and (possibly relevant for Strelan) “the evil eye” (Mark 7:21-22)
Reading the Gospel of Mark against the background of Enoch’s Watchers
Called to come after/follow behind
Peter, Andrew, James and John are the first and only disciples explicitly called to “come behind” (οπισω) Jesus. Hence they are the leaders of the band appointed to be with Jesus.
Strelan cites H. Seesemann in TDNT, V, pp. 289-92 to explain that this preposition, οπισω, is used in the Septuagint to express the relation between God and his chosen people, and implies full commitment and service to God.
I found this article by Rick Strelan interesting reading:
The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark, Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha, 20 (1999) 73-92
Rick Strelan begins by showing the likelihood that the gospel authors knew and drew upon Enochian legends and themes.
The legend of the Fallen Watchers — those angels who left the high heaven and descended to marry the daughters of humans — is one of the myths most often cited in the Jewish-Christian literature of the period 200 BCE to 300 CE.
The ‘Book of Watchers’ of 1 Enoch is referred to in
Manichaean writings (The Kephalaia of the Teacher 92, 93, 117, 171)
Nag Hammadi documents (e.g. Ap John 19:16-20:11)
Strelan writes that in nearly all of these references, the myth of the Fallen Watchers is told to illustrate the lesson that the present generation is sinful and is facing a test of faithfulness to the law of God.
A related theme that comes through, especially in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Reuben) is the evil of women. Women are lying schemers and seducers of men. They brought about the fall of the Watcher angels, and the faithful are warned to guard against sexual lust, and women.
Strelan refers to an article by George Nickelsburg in which he sees the Gospel of Mark’s Passion Narrative drawing on Jewish stories of Joseph, Ahikar, Esther, Daniel and Susanna. Strelan sees Mark as also constructing the disciples of Jesus according to the fallen Watchers legend of Enoch. And again, it is to present the same lesson: the unfaithfulness of his own generation. Continue reading “Fallen Watchers of Enoch and the 12 Disciples in Mark’s Gospel”
Without wanting to misrepresent the central themes of John Ashton’s book, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (2nd ed) — it is NOT about the noncanonical sources of the Gospel of John as I might appear to be suggesting here — there is the other side of the message of the Prologue that Ashton also addresses, and that is the return of the Logos from earth back to heaven.
The Prologue concludes with Jesus returning to the bosom of the Father in heaven:
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten [. . . varying MSS lines for God or Son . . .] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. (John 1:18)
As Ashton remarks, with the return of the Son of God to the Father at the end of the Prologue, the story is in effect over before it begins.
But the theme of Jesus returning to the Father is picked up again later in the Gospel. Jesus’ death is depicted by the evangelist as an ascent to heaven, a return to the Father who sent him, an ascent back to his original home in heaven with the Father:
Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away . . . Where I go you cannot come” . . . Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know . . .” (John 8:21, 28)
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all . . . to myself” (John 12:32)
“I am going to the Father“ (John 14:12, 28)
If the Wisdom of Ben Sira expresses a Jewish belief that “Wisdom” was sent into the world but was rejected by the world, with the result that only a chosen few (Israel) received Wisdom as their own where she could dwell (until rejection and failure to recognize her set in), another noncanonical Jewish book, 1 Enoch, completes this thought by declaring that after Wisdom had been sent she returned to her place in heaven.
Wisdom found no place where she could dwell, and her dwelling was in heaven. Wisdom went out in order to dwell among the sons of men, but did not find a dwelling; wisdom returned to her place and took her seat in the midst of angels. (1 Enoch 42:1-2)
This is the conclusion of the Prologue and it is also the conclusion of the Gospel of John. (The resurrection and epilogue are clumsily added end-tags that add nothing to the message and meaning of the Gospel.)
Jesus, after having been sent by the Father from heaven with a revelation from God — a revelation that is expressed in the Gospel narrative’s Works, not Words, since the words themselves “reveal” nothing more than that Jesus was the revealer (Ashton building on Bultmann) — returns to his home in heaven and to the Father who sent him.
Thus Jesus, like Wisdom as attested in noncanonical Jewish scriptures, is sent from heaven, descends therefore from heaven, is rejected on earth, finds a dwelling place among a few, then ascends back to heaven.
As Ashton remarks, (from memory) if this is not gnosticism, it is (nonetheless awfully) close.
This notion of descending from heaven and ascending back to heaven is also a Son of Man motif in the Gospel. This is established from the beginning when Jesus tells Jesus that Nathaniel will see the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (1:51).
The descending and ascending motif is also a noncanonical Wisdom motif. If (as is argued elsewhere and by others) the Son of Man is associated with the cult of royalty, kings, in Israel (compare the development of the notion of “Son of Man” from the original Aramaic text in Daniel where a kingdom of Israel is to replace the kingdoms of gentiles represented by beasts), then it appears that the Gospel of John represents an attempt to merge this royal Son of Man with the idea of the Logos, the true Wisdom that is replacing the Law of Moses (1:17), descending and ascending in relation to its home in heaven.
We thus see here in the Gospel of John how a death of the heavenly messenger, the Christ even (though this title is not overly emphasized, apparently, in the original strata of the Gospel of John) is seen as a positive event in its own right, and requires no resurrection sequel to touch it up with extraneous “hope”. In the Gospel of John the death of Christ is equated as a glorification of Jesus, an ascent to heaven, a return to the Father.
In addition to the above passages cited from GJohn, we have:
And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:23-24)
Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified . . . (John 13:31 in context of Judas going out to betray Jesus and initiate the events leading to his death)
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, . . . .
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 17:1, 5)
For the Johannine school of Christianity, the death of Jesus was in and of itself a glorious thing — it was Jesus’ return to heaven and the Father. His being “lifted up” by crucifixion was paradoxically actually a “lifting up” back to heaven!
One can begin to see how the gospel’s inclusion and rewriting of resurrection appearances of Jesus can be argued as superfluous. There are several reasons for thinking that they were never part of the original text quite apart from the above. Examples: angels appear to deliver one-liners without waiting for answers; the appearance of Jesus to the disciples fearfully locking themselves in a room knows nothing of the next scene where we learn that Thomas was missing; etc. Indeed, as Gregory Riley argues in Resurrection Reconsidered, someone was using the Gospel of John’s turf to argue against other Christians who followed Mary, Peter and Thomas as their lead-disciples.
John Ashton’s Understanding the Fourth Gospel is not about noncanonical sources of the gospel. But he does offer enough evidence to remind us that understanding Christian origins requires a broader outlook than seeking to relate everything in the New Testament gospels back to something in the canonical Jewish literature, or Old Testament.
Borg and Crossan (B and C) (The First Paul) attempt to argue that despite Paul’s clear assertions that he sought to preach only “Christ crucified” and that “Jesus is Lord”, that this could not possibly have been true:
[W]e think the notion that Paul’s message was primarily or exclusively about the death of Jesus and not his life is highly unlikely. Indeed, we find it impossible to imagine. As an illustration, imagine a conversation between Paul and someone he sought to convert. Imagine, for example, Paul’s conversation with Lydia (Acts 16:13-15). (p. 126)
Borg and Crossan then portray Lydia as a very capable and intelligent woman (she was a seller of a luxury item) who was a gentile “God seeker”.
Now imagine Paul telling Lydia about Jesus. Imagine, also, that he focuses on “Christ crucified” (and also, of course, on “Jesus Christ is Lord”). One cannot imagine the conversation going very far before Lydia asks, “Well, this Jesus you talk about who was crucified and then raised from the dead, what was he like?” Paul says, “Never mind what he was like — what really matters is that he was the Son of God who was crucified and died for your sins.” Such an answer would have had no meaning for her. It would have been a conversation stopper.
For Paul to have told her about Jesus’s death would have had no meaning unless he also told her about what Jesus was like, about the kind of person he was. What was this person like who got crucified? What did he stand for that led to his execution by the powers that ruled his world and then his resurrection by God? Who was the Jesus who is now Lord? Proclaiming “Christ crucified” could not (and still cannot) exclude talking about what Jesus was like, what he taught, and what he stood for.” (pp.126-127)
It simply does not occur to many bible scholars (Borg and Crossan are not alone) who are, to a large extent, essentially supported by various Christian communities, to re-examine their historicist assumptions that force them into the position of having to make up imaginary scenarios like the one above to support their arguments. There is simply no evidence that Paul was ever obliged to, or ever did, discuss the pre-crucifixion life and character of an historical Jesus. The evidence that we do have actually speaks against any idea that he did do this. But the assumptions from which Borg and Crossan are working force them to imagine that Paul must necessarily have preached something akin to one of our four narrative gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit now that I once thanked Crossan for helping me appreciate the importance of “historical methodology”. Well, his Historical Jesus did take me a long way forward from where I had been until that time. But boy have I learned so much more since. Mostly what I’ve learned since is not that hard, really. Simply study the historians and classicists of nonbiblical ancient history and literature topics and apply their methods consistently to the biblical topics too. No favourites or disciplines with special rules to make them somehow exceptional cases. (Okay, I had several years studying ancient history as an undergraduate so I guess it’s a bit easier for me than some others. But I’m trying to share on this blog.)
What else could Paul possibly have preached?
Just what he said he preached. Christ crucified, for starters. Why is this a problem for most? Because, I suspect, we start out with assumptions of Jesus’ historicity. The gospel crucifixion scene consists of only the last few chapters of each of the gospels. It is not enough of a narrative on its own. It needs all the earlier bits like the healings, the miracles, the teachings, the crowds and conflicts, to mean anything much. But all of these are generally acknowledged as having been written long after Paul.
All this starts to make more sense when we understand that first-century c.e. Judaism was not the rigidly “monotheistic” cult that we associate with later rabbinism and today’s Jews. Whether we follow Margaret Barker and her The Great Angel : a Study of Israel’s Second God (which proposes that Judaism before the fall of the Temple in 70 c.e. contained factions that effectively still retained memories of El, Yahweh, Asherah as distinct yet all divine beings) or James F. McGrath and his The Only True God : Early Christian
Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (which argues that what passed for “monotheism” in the first century was a broader definition than we allow today), one soon learns that Judaism before the fall of the Temple was not the same as what it became in the second century.
Just a few drops to indicate the incredible diversity of Second Temple religious beliefs among Jews, which later rabbinic Judaism attempted to deny:
For some Jews, individuals such as Jacob existed in heaven before they appeared on earth, as we learn from The Prayer of Joseph.
And some wrote of subordinate heavenly beings with names like Yaoel, a contraction of Yahweh and El, as in The Apocalypse of Abraham, a text with remarkable echoes of the Gospel of John.
Some factions also dedicated themselves to the study of “hidden wisdom” and the roles of angels, as we learn from apocalyptic texts like the Book of Enoch.
Even the New Testament cannot avoid reference to these narratives of great powers in heaven, including their Enochian source, as we see in Jude.
For others, such practices had to be denounced and expunged, as we see from the survival of the texts that have since become the Jewish Bible and Christianity‘s Old Testament.
I have also discussed in depth Levenson’s exploration of how the Isaac story among some Jews apparently became transformed into a death and resurrection narrative by the Second Temple period.
And first-century Jewish philosopherPhilo also speaks of the Logos as a second god.
and those strange references in the New Testament and other unorthodox Jewish literature to Melchizedek
and how seriously should we read take the description of a woman in Revelation being clothed with the sun — surely an obvious allusion to her divinity — who bore a child who was not crucified on earth but whisked immediately to heaven?
and the survival of the Ugaritic divinities in various forms in the apocalyptic literature, and Margaret Barker’s discussions of the distinctions between El and Yahweh even in the OT.
and the cosmic-spiritual meanings attributed to astronomical data, including within Mithraism of the same era.
and what did he discuss among converts about the meaning of his vision of Jesus, and the times he felt himself taken up to the different levels of heavens, and the meanings of the “marks of Jesus” in his hands, as he also mentions in his letters, and the power of angels from heaven to preach, and what he meant by Christ being revealed “in him”, and being “set forth crucified” before the very eyes of the Galatians?
To answer, these contents of Paul’s letters ought not to be overlooked as embarrassing oddities. We need to seriously consider how Christianity could have been so overwhelmingly dominated by Marcionites and Valentinians in the early second century, and that it was only as that century wore on that current orthodoxy began to gain the upper hand. Recall how the orthodox (Tertullian?) could even say that Paul was “the apostle of the heretics”.
Paul’s letters need to be read against this three-dimensional context of Jewish religious speculation and writings, not just through the two dimensional OT and modern Christianity perspective.
Once we leave behind the monochrome Judaism of our OT and begin to enter the far richer and more complex world that was first-century c.e. Judaism then Paul’s letters begin to need less creative imagination from Borg and Crossan to explain. Lydia was a capable and articulate woman who may well have been engaged by a theological-cum-philosophical discussion about powers and beings of heaven and what they offered anew for people like her on earth. Or maybe there was much allegorizing, as we find in the first gospel of Mark.
The Gospel of Mark, seen by many as reflecting the theology of Paul, allegorizes the crucifixion to indicate the overthrow of the demonic powers of this earth and the opening of the gateway (cross/ecliptic . . .) between heaven and earth, an event privatized for Jesus at his baptism, but made available to believers with the tearing of the veil (representing heaven with its pattern of stars) that had hitherto separated the place of God from the place of humankind. Paul’s cross fits in well with theologies of the overthrow of demonic or “lesser god” powers, and declaring just and saved all who believe in their “oneness with God” through the cross, symbol of giving up all their earthly desires, and symbol of the gateway between heaven and earth.
I suspect Paul taught the sorts of things he wrote about. He discussed why and how circumcision was no longer valid because of the complex meaning — hitherto a mystery, as he says — of the crucifixion of Jesus. He taught about how a new way of relating to God could be based on faith in a crucified Messiah, much as Stoics could teach of a new way of living and relating to the cosmos through the denial of the flesh (see Engberg-Pedersen — will do some posts on his work sometime). In both, new communities arose out of such teachings. All of this is lost to modern readers who are fixated on an historical interpretation of a narrative that in its original form was clearly allegorical — see my notes on Gospel of Mark on my vridar.info site.
By no means am I claiming that the above points as presented like this are proof or even linking evidence that Paul did teach something more esoteric than a biographical narrative. I can do no more in this post than point out the religious environment and suggest alternatives. There is certainly no evidence for B’s and C’s imaginative scenario — quite the contrary.
A capable, intelligent, “God-seeker” like Lydia was also immersed in this world of theological diversity, and no doubt would have been wrapped in any such discussion. The original narrator of the tale, the author of Acts and Luke, however, was a proto-orthodox Christian opposed to such speculations. For him, the literal interpretation of the narrative of Jesus was destined to replace the heretical speculations the original devotees of Paul clung to.
This is certainly true according to B and C. But if that was really true for Paul then one must remain at least somewhat perplexed by his frequent separate treatment of them – even sometimes discussing the meaning of the crucifixion without any reference to resurrection at all. When Paul does discuss resurrection, it is to affirm life after death and the ongoing Lordship of Jesus. These are not, contra B and C, presented as “answers” to the crucifixion. The death of Jesus has its own salvific value for Paul quite apart from any discussion of a resurrection. But this is another topic if I need to pull out the citations etc to make the point. Later. Enough blogging for one weekend.