2012-02-12

The War of the Heavenly Christs: John’s Sacrificed Lamb versus Paul’s Crucified God (Couchoud continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

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Continuing here my series of outlining Paul Louis Couchoud’s work The Creation of Christ (English translation 1939), with all posts in the series archived, in reverse chronological order, here.

The previous post in this series presented Couchoud’s argument that Paul’s Christ was a God crucified in heaven, the result of a combination of feverish interpretations of the Psalms and other Jewish scriptures and a projection of Paul’s own experiences of suffering.

In the chapter I outline in this, post Couchoud begins by narrating the departure of Paul and all the original Jerusalem pillars bar one. Paul, he says, with the demonstration of the converted gentile Titus before the Jerusalem elders, and the Jerusalem elders themselves, were moving towards a reconciliation at long last that culminated in the decree we read of Acts 15 — that gentiles need only follow a few principles ordained originally for Noah’s descendants plus one or two:

  • avoid eating meat offered to idols
  • avoid eating blood
  • avoid eating things strangled
  • avoid fornication (that is, marriages between Christians and pagans)

Couchoud does not know if Paul ever went so far as submitting to this Jerusalem edict, but he does declare that the communities Paul founded in Asia and others influenced by him did ignore it. These were “scornfully called” Nicolaitanes. They continued to live as they had always lived in the faith: buying meat in the market without asking if it had been sacrificed to an idol and tolerating marriages between Christians and pagans.

The authorities at Jerusalem scornfully called them Nicolaitanes, treated them as rebels worse than heathen, excommunicated them, and vowed them to early extermination by the sword of Jesus. (p. 79)

Then came the next turning point in church history:

In the meantime the haughty Mother Church was struck by an earthly sword. In the stormy year which preceded the Jewish insurrection, three “pillars” were taken from Jerusalem. About 62, after the death of the prosecutor Festus and before the arrival of his successor, James, the “brother of the Lord,” the camel of piety, was, together with others, accused by the high priest Ananos as a law-breaker, condemned, and stoned. Kephas-Peter, the first to behold Jesus, perished at Rome, probably in the massacre of the Christians after the fire of Rome in 64. At Rome, too, died his adversary who had in former days impeached and mocked him so vigorously, Paul. Nothing is known of their deaths, save perhaps that jealousy and discord among the Christians brought them about. (p. 80)

In footnotes Couchoud adds

  1. with reference to our evidence for the death of James that the phrase in Josephus appended to the name of James, “brother of Jesus called the Christ” have been added later by a Christian hand;
  2. with reference to Christian sectarian jealousy being ultimately responsible for the death of Peter and Paul he cites both Clemens Romanus V (Clement of Rome) and O. Cullmann, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Philosophie relig., 1930, pp. 294-300, as decisive evidence that there was jealousy and discord.

So this left John Continue reading “The War of the Heavenly Christs: John’s Sacrificed Lamb versus Paul’s Crucified God (Couchoud continued)”


2012-02-03

Earliest divisions in the Christian movement (Couchoud continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

I liked this novel better than Couchoud’s “Divisions” chapter. I suspect it gives some more realistic aspects of these early Christian years.

Unfortunately this is not my favourite chapter in Couchoud’s book The Creation Of Christ. But I’ve set myself a target and I have to get through this one to finish the book, so here goes. (The series is archived here.) (I personally suspect the stories in Acts are inspired more by Old Testament and Classical analogues than historical reminiscences, and motivated more by anti-Marcionite/pro-Catholic interests than disinterested archival dedication — though not totally bereft of historical re-writing at points here and there, but this post is for Couchoud so I’ll get out of the way for now.  Except to say I believe Earl Doherty’s model is a much more satisfactory explanation for the “riotous diversity” that characterized what emerged as “earliest Christianity”.)

But one point in C’s favour is his attempt to synchronize what he reads in Paul and Acts with political events in the broader empire.

Once again any emphases etc in the quotations is my own.

Couchoud says the apparitions of the Lord Jesus can be dated (via the writings of Paul) to the beginning of the reign of the reputedly “mad” Roman emperor Caligula  — 37-38 c.e.

These visions, he continues, all occurred in Palestine. Paul’s was the exception — and it was subject to doubt among his critics. (The last of the visions, according to Paul — says C — is to be dated 14 years before his own journey to Jerusalem, i.e. around 51 – 52 c.e.)

Of these visionary experiences, Couchoud suggests they conferred on the Jerusalem pillars a unique status:

They conferred on the community at Jerusalem and on its chiefs, Kephas, James, the Twelve, an unequalled title and right to decide all that might be postulated in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We know the names of some of these earliest visionaries: Continue reading “Earliest divisions in the Christian movement (Couchoud continued)”


2012-01-31

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

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by Neil Godfrey

Couchoud thought that John the Baptist epitomized and popularized the Jewish hopes for a coming Judge from Heaven — as shown in my previous post in this series (the entire series is archived here).

Christianity was born of the travail of the days of John. The Baptist gave it two talismans with which to bind souls:

  1. the advent of the Heavenly Man in a universal cataclysm,
  2. and the rite of baptism which allowed the initiates to await, without apprehension, the Coming of the Judge.

(p. 31, my formatting)

At first the teaching spread like wildfire but without John’s name attached to it as its IP owner.

Before long the teaching became enriched with various kinds of additions. First among these additions were new names for the Heavenly Man: Lord, Christ, Jesus.

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

To whom could this have been addressed? Surely not to the Messiah, the Son of David, waited for by the Pharisees. David would not have called his son “my Lord.” It must have been to the Son of Man who, according to the Revelation of Enoch, was placed on the throne of his glory by God Himself. (p. 31)

Since David as an inspired prophet makes it clear that the Son of Man is enthroned at the right hand of God and calls him Lord. So believers could also call the Son of Man their Lord.

(Note that the title “Son of Man” was used as a Greek expression, too. Think of Christianity as moulded very largely by Greek speakers.)

Christ, Christos, “is a somewhat barbarous translation of the Hebrew word which means consecrated by unction, Messiah.” Continue reading “The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued”


2011-12-31

The earliest gospels 5 – Gospel of John (according to P L Couchoud)

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing here with Couchoud’s views of second-century gospel origins. Earlier posts, including explanations for the reasons etc for these posts, are archived here.

C’s story of John’s gospel begins with a setting in Ephesus, two generations after the feverish hopes for the coming of the Lord that produced the Book of Revelation. The church at Ephesus “preserved the tradition of the pillar apostle who had seen the Lord, for in this lay its claim to fame and to authority.” (p. 223) Apocalyptic enthusiasm had dwindled away and been replaced by a mysticism that experienced Christ as having come in the “here and now” in spirit and in their own flesh. Paul’s teachings about a mystical union with Christ also primary, according to the evidence of “Ignatius” in his letter to the Ephesians, so much so that Paul’s concept of baptism as symbolic of death and burial had been superseded by the idea of baptism as a principle of a new life in Christ, with eternal life being granted at the moment of emerging from the real “water of life”.

These Christians were “born again” here and now and forever. They lived here and now in Light and Life. They could see and touch here and now the miracles of that divine life in full joy and love. The love was, however, a cultic love for their own brethren and worshiped spirits and not for the world. The prophets were revered, but also tested to see that they were not false and that they carried the same teaching of Christ having come now in the flesh.

They rejected the Marcionites and original teaching of Paul that Jesus had come only in the form of a man. Christ’s body was mystically both heavenly and human flesh and blood. Being heavenly Jesus was not, as Matthew said, born through a woman. The logical impossibility of being both spirit and flesh at one time in one body was resolved by mystic illumination that passes rational understanding. Continue reading “The earliest gospels 5 – Gospel of John (according to P L Couchoud)”


2011-06-11

Heavenly Visions: the foundation of Paul’s Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

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The New Testament epistles inform us that the original Gospel was a revelation from God. That means it did not originate by means of spoken tradition relayed from historical events, by word of mouth, from eyewitness or preacher to others. Rather, one might almost say that the medium itself was the message: the revelation or vision was, in a significant sense, the Gospel and conversion experience.

Thus Paul — thought by some scholars to be the real founder of Christianity — says that he was not taught the Gospel by men. “In Galatians 1, Paul claims that he did not receive the gospel from a human source. . . . In Galatians Paul speaks of his conversion as a revelation (apocalypse [1:12])” (Segal, 1990: 35, 36)

I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. . . . But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. (Galatians 1:12, 16) Continue reading “Heavenly Visions: the foundation of Paul’s Christianity”


The Book of Revelation, its original meaning and modern misunderstandings

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by Neil Godfrey

Professor Bruce J. Malina has had a special interest in understanding what was in the minds of the those who wrote, read (and heard being read) the New Testament literature, and in recent posts I have glimpsed a couple of sections of his On the Genre and Message of Revelation where he guides readers to understand this book the way its original audience may have understood it. This post looks at Malina’s explanation and history of the name and genre of the book, and why Malina believes it has been misunderstood and misread because of ignorance of the literary and religious culture that produced it.

Professor Malina’s words are also applicable to the challenge by mythicists to professional scholars and nonprofessional students of New Testament interpretation in general. (Malina is not a mythicist, and the association is my own. Note Thomas L. Thompson’s observation that HJ scholars have always begun with the assumption that there is a historical Jesus to talk about.)

The approach to the book of Revelation adopted in this book in terms of the Hellenistic conception of the sky is a radically historical one. The goal is to understand the document in terms that would have made sense to a first-century A.D. audience. Only such a historical approach can be considered fair and adequate to the prophet’s concern about “anyone taking away from the utterances of the scroll of this prophecy” (21:19).

The task of helping a modern audience understand the book of Revelation, however, faces numerous obstacles. As is the case when working with all ancient documents, the obstacles derive not from the book of Revelation itself, but from both nonprofessional and professional students of the Bible who bring their own scenarios to their reading of the book (see Malina 1991). On the other hand, the historically minded interpreter must overcome  the nonprofessional’s uncritical acceptance of spurious information both about the genre or type of the work and about the experience it purportedly describes. For many nonprofessionals the book of Revelation has become a repository of predictions concerning the end of the world. This has been a quite common perspective ever since Pharisees and Christians sought to determine the “true” age of creation to determine the beginning of the seventh millennium — the Sabbath of the cosmos (see Landes 1988). (p. 10, my emphasis and paragraphing, links are to the Google-book previews.) Continue reading “The Book of Revelation, its original meaning and modern misunderstandings”


2011-06-06

The Cosmic Lamb and the Light of the World

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by Neil Godfrey

Cast of the Farnese Atlas globe, ca. 1930 Rome, Museo della Civiltà Romana, inv. M.C.R. 2896 http://brunelleschi.imss.fi.it/galileopalazzostrozzi/object/CastOfTheFarneseAtlasGlobe.html

In my previous post I spoke of a leading Context Group scholar, Bruce Malina, who has a particular interest in understanding the New Testament through the minds of first or second century readers. The first chapter of On the Genre and Message of Revelation addresses at length the problem of reading the book of Revelation with modern assumptions and with only limited awareness of the thought-world of its original readers.

A striking illustration of this appears on page 104:

To call the Messiah “the light of the world” or to designate him as leader at the head of the periodic changes of the universe in the form of the constellation Aries would not be very different things.

In all my years of church attendance and piously motivated Bible study I never once thought to associate the image of “light of the world” with a heavenly constellation known to us as a “ram” (but as something slightly different in Jewish zodiacs of that time). But this is Malina’s point. In summing up his argument he writes:

In conclusion, we might note that astral lore was well known in the social world of our author.

So here is what Malina tells us about the cosmic lamb in Revelation against the background of ancient knowledge of astral lore. (I follow with Malina’s discussion of the place and purpose of literature like Revelation among the early Christians.) Continue reading “The Cosmic Lamb and the Light of the World”


2011-06-05

Born of a woman in heaven: cosmic origin of the Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

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Professor Bruce J. Malina, a leading scholar in the Context Group, has written a book on the genre and message of the book of Revelation in which he interprets it as an astral prophecy. This is from the dust jacket blurb of On The Genre And Message Of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys (1995):

As one of the pioneers of applying social criticism to the biblical text, author Bruce Malina has helped revolutionize the way we think about the text and our models for interpretation. Now in a compelling new study—and one that will surely be his most controversial—Malina offers a completely new lens for viewing the book of Revelation. Malina contends that John the Seer’s milieu was one of intense interest and fascination with the sky, especially with those “beings” in the sky—constellations, planets, comets, sun, moon, and zodiac—that controlled the destiny of the Earth and its inhabitants. He asserts that John has his own interpretation of the sky that follows not the Greco-Roman astrological myths but the Jewish and Christian story of God’s salvation in Messiah. John thus stands as an “astral prophet” who interprets the sky in accordance with what has taken place in Christ. This vibrant reading of Revelation is buttressed by innumerable ancient literary and archeological sources that demonstrate that John’s world was indeed one enamored with the sky and its significance for planet Earth.

According to Revelation 4:1, John the Seer looks in the sky and observes an “open door.” Then the “first voice” invites John “up” to the heavens to witness what must take place. “In the spirit,” John describes what he sees in the sky. Is John really looking at the sky? . . . . . . Is John the Seer’s language of special numbers, brilliant colors, heavenly thrones, elders, angels, sun, moon, and stars more in keeping with descriptions of the sky than with apocalyptic visions? Bruce Malina thinks so, and he builds an unusually impressive case that will surely stir the interpretive waters surrounding John’s Apocalypse. On the Genre and Message of Revelation does what Bruce Malina has done so well for decades: he challenges Western readers to think like ancient Mediterraneans, to slough off biased, scientific presuppositions, and to explore the world of Jesus and his followers with a new map, one that leads to a richer understanding of the New Testament witness of Revelation.

Malina explains his view of the genre of Revelation: Continue reading “Born of a woman in heaven: cosmic origin of the Messiah”

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