BRUNO BAUER — Six Works Translated into English

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by Neil Godfrey

I have translated six volumes of Bruno Bauer’s works into English and make them freely accessible here. I am not a German speaker and the Fraktur or Gothic font is not my closest friend so I have relied heavily on machine translation tools — Google Translate, DeepL and ChatGPT, often comparing them paragraph by paragraph for the preferable rendering into English. I have made an effort to manually check all pages for accuracy and comprehensibility but unfortunately the complexity and highly abstract commentary by Bauer sometimes stretched me to the limits of my abilities. Most of the text, I trust, is easier to read than those sections, but I encourage anyone who sees errors or can propose better translations to let me know.

Christ and the Caesars is commercially available — or rather it is very difficult to obtain — so I have provided here a fresh translation for open access.

BRUNO BAUER: Critique of the Gospel of John – English translation

BRUNO BAUER: Critique of the Gospel Narrative – English translation

BRUNO BAUER: Acts of the Apostles – in English

BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin – in English

BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Pauline Letters – in English

BRUNO BAUER: Christ and the Caesars – in English

Albert Schweitzer on Bruno Bauer

One might suppose that between the work of Strauss and that of Bauer there lay not five, but fifty years—the critical work of a whole generation. . . .

The only critic with whom Bauer can be compared is Reimarus. Each exercised a terrifying and disabling influence upon his time. No one else had been so keenly conscious as they of the extreme complexity of the problem offered by the life of Jesus. . . .

For us the great men are not those who solved the problems, but those who discovered them. Bauer’s Criticism of the Gospel History is worth a good dozen Lives of Jesus, because his work, as we are only now coming to recognise, after half a century, is the ablest and most complete collection of the difficulties of the Life of Jesus which is anywhere to be found. . . .

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery. A. & C. Black, 1910. pp. 151, 159






§ 91 Respite

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by Neil Godfrey


§ 91


We do not need to make or seek the transition to dogmatic criticism. Although the historical criticism that we have exercised above has never used so-called dogmatic arguments, such as that this or that miracle is impossible, in its result it is already the criticism of dogma. If we were to turn from it to the criticism of church dogma or the dogma of the New Testament letters, we would not be entering a new area, but would be considering the dogma that we have examined in the evangelical version in another stage of its development. The Christian dogma of the Redeemer is in itself both history – the history of his heavenly origin, his suffering, and his resurrection – and this history has been depicted in the Gospels as a real, empirical sequence of events. However, we have shown that it is only a dogma, only an ideal product of the Christian consciousness, so we have criticized the dogma at the point where it is most firmly rooted in reality and most inaccessible to doubt.

The idea of the Messiah, and specifically the idea that this is the Messiah, gave the Christian community its origin, or rather, both the formation of the community and the emergence of that idea are one and the same and coincide in terms of the matter and the time; but that idea was only the notion, i.e., the first vital impulse of the nascent community, the religious expression of an experience that the general consciousness of the world made and that expressed itself in the circle of religious concepts, presenting its content, its inner self, as a foreign person, as indeed the religious consciousness is a spirit that estranges itself from itself.


We have answered the question that our time has been so occupied with, namely whether Jesus is the historical Christ, by showing that everything that the historical Christ is, what is said about him, and what we know about him belongs to the world of imagination, specifically the Christian imagination, and therefore has nothing to do with a human being belonging to the real world. The question is thus answered, and it is eliminated for all future time.

Equally unfortunate is the ultimate fate of this question with regard to its concern with the determination of the sinlessness of the Redeemer. Just as the historical Christ dissolves into the opposite of what the imagination claims of him, namely from being a person with flesh and blood, a person who belongs to history with the power of his soul and spirit, into a phantom that mocks all laws of history, so has the imagined sinlessness of this phantom undergone the same fate. We simply refer to our critique, which at every step it took, had to become a feeling of indignation about a relationship in which one person is opposed to the general wickedness and stupidity, so that he always points to this contrast, always delights in this contrast, and without any moral connection with the world, dissolves all moral relationships in the thought of his pure self-consciousness, without reproducing them from it in any way. Nature must be blasphemed by the one, history and human relationships must be despised and ridiculed by him.


The fourth [gospel] has pursued all the relevant contrasts in his ruthless manner only up to the extreme pinnacle of the irony of the divine over all things human. But the contrasts themselves are already found in the synoptic Gospels and they belong necessarily to the religion which has raised itself to its ultimate abstract completion.

The result of our previous critique, that the Christian religion is the abstract religion, is the unveiling of the mystery of Christianity. The religions of antiquity had as their main powers nature, the spirit of the family, and the spirit of the people. The world domination of Rome and philosophy were the movements of a universal power that sought to rise above the limits of previous natural and national life and to become master of itself and of consciousness. For the general consciousness, this triumph of freedom and humanity, apart from the fact that Rome’s external world domination could not bring it about, could not yet be brought about in the form of free self-consciousness and pure theory, since religion was still a universal power and within it the general revolution had to take place. Within the sphere of the alienated spirit, if the liberation was to be thorough and for humanity, the previous barriers of general life had to be lifted, i.e., the alienation had to become total, embracing everything human. In the religions of antiquity, the essential interests conceal and veil the depth and horror of the alienation; the view of nature is enchanting, the family bond has a sweet charm, the interest of the people gives the religious spirit a fiery tension towards the powers of its worship: the chains that the human spirit wore in the service of these religions were adorned with flowers, like a sacrificial animal splendidly and festively adorned, man presented himself to his religious powers as a sacrifice, his chains themselves deceived him about the hardness of his service.

As the flowers of history withered away and the chains were broken by Roman power, the vampire of spiritual abstraction completed the work. He sucked out the sap and strength, blood and life of humanity until the last drop of blood: nature and art, family, nation and state were absorbed, and on the ruins of the fallen world, the emaciated self remained as the only power. After the enormous loss, the self could not immediately recreate from its depth and generality nature and art, nation and state; the only deed that engaged it was the absorption of everything that had hitherto lived in the world. Now it was all the self, and yet it was empty; it had become the universal power, and yet it trembled before itself on the ruins of the world and despaired of its loss. The empty, all-consuming self was afraid of itself; it did not dare to grasp itself as everything and as the universal power, i.e., it still remained the religious spirit and completed its alienation by confronting its universal power as something foreign and working in fear and trembling for its preservation and salvation. It saw its guarantee for its preservation in the Messiah, who represented only that which it was fundamentally, namely, itself as the universal power, but as the power in which all nature-view and the ethical determinations of family, nation and state life, as well as the artistic view, had perished.


The historical starting point for this revolution was given in Jewish national life, since in its religious consciousness not only nature and art had already been strangled, thus the struggle against the nature and art religion was already carried out in itself, but also the national spirit had already had to enter into dialectic with the thought of a higher universality in manifold forms – whose presentation I have given elsewhere. The lack of this dialectic lay only in the fact that at its conclusion the national spirit again made itself the center of the universe: Christianity eliminated this deficiency by making the pure ego the universal. The Gospels have carried out this transformation in their own way – namely in the way of historical representation: everywhere dependent on the Old Testament and almost only a copy of it, they have nevertheless allowed the power of the national spirit to be consumed in the omnipotence of the pure, pure, but estranged from actual humanity ego.


If we consider the Gospels in a way that disregards their mutual contradictions, that is, as the simple and unprejudiced faith abstracts a total picture from their confused content, we must already be amazed at how they could occupy humanity for eighteen centuries and do so in such a way that their mystery was not uncovered. For in none of them, not even in the smallest section, are there any views that do not offend, insult, or outrage humanity.

Our amazement must become even greater when we notice how the Gospels, with their statements and assumptions, are in contradiction with everything we know about the supposed time of their subject; the highest degree of amazement, however, must be reached when we consider the terrible contradictions into which they are entangled with their mutual assertions, with a historical narrative like that of Matthew and with a view like that of the Fourth. Has humanity had to suffer from such things for one and a half millennia? Yes, it had to, for the great and immense step could only be taken after such pains and efforts if it was not to be taken in vain and if it was to be appreciated in its true meaning and magnitude. Consciousness had to deal with itself in the Gospels, even if only with itself in its alienation, that is, with a terrible parody of itself, but still with itself: hence that magic that attracted, captivated, and forced humanity to offer everything to maintain its image until it had healed itself, and even then, to prefer it to everything else and to call everything else, like the apostle did, rubbish in comparison. In slavery under its own image, humanity was educated so that it could prepare the freedom all the more thoroughly and embrace it all the more intimately and fervently when it was finally won. The deepest and most terrible alienation was to mediate, prepare, and make freedom valuable for all time, perhaps also to make it expensive for the struggle that slavery and stupidity will wage against it. Odysseus has returned to his homeland, but not by divine grace, not sleeping, but awake, thinking, and through his own power: perhaps he will also have to fight the suitors who have squandered his property and want to withhold the most precious thing from him. Odysseus will know how to string the bow.


The battle with the theologians and their hypocritical twists and turns is over. We have told them so many times that, if they had ears to hear and eyes to see, there should be no more misunderstanding: their hypocrisy consisted in trying to maintain views that were refuted by their own secular education and all their circumstances, and that could only be sustained by pitiful arguments. They really thought they were serious about it, they really fought for those views, because they were still imprisoned by them and believed they would be lost, here and in the other world, without them. It was the general hypocrisy of the world: to consider and treat the maintenance of religious views as an intellectual task with the consistency of reason, while reason itself had outgrown and escaped those views. Now things have changed, criticism has been scientifically and ethically completed, the religious view explained and recognized, and humanity freed. If the theologian still believes that humanity should not devote itself to nobler purposes, higher tasks, and that history is only there to entertain us with his bickering, or that an explanation of one biblical passage displaces the other and the issue never comes to a decision, if the theologian still believes that humanity and history are only there for his sake, then he must now force himself upon us, while he used to rule the world, he must finally openly, willfully, and consciously deceive and lie, i.e. oppose the mediated knowledge and still harass us with his ideas.


But, as for my work, perhaps there would still be another task for him. If he managed to be thorough and concise and insisted on the belief that everything happening in the world is only for his sake, that everything is just a homework assignment in which he must prove his particular wisdom, he might come up with the idea of collecting the passages in my writing where I describe him himself. And since he knows only personal interests, he could use this to prove my rudeness, recklessness, and terrorism. In vain! You can’t get away from the issue! The only proof you have to provide is that you demonstrate that those outbursts of indignation about hypocrisy and the most frivolous mockery of the writing itself are not justified by the previous development; you must first prove that I am wrong about the matter; you must first prove that you have read the critical developments— in general, it must be proved that humanity does not have the right to throw off its chains. We would also be curious to see proof that a painter should not use a dark printer, and that a painting is judged perfectly if one says, “Look at this dark spot!” Theology is the dark spot in modern history, and as such, I could only describe it and confront it with the purity of criticism.

The historical Christ is the man whom religious consciousness has raised to heaven, i.e., the man who, even when he comes down to earth to perform miracles, to teach, and to suffer, is no longer the true man. The son of man in religion is also the reconciler of man with himself. He is not born like a man, does not live like a man in human relations, and does not die like a man. This historical Christ, the one raised to heaven, the one who became God, has overturned antiquity, conquered the world by draining it, and fulfilled its historical destiny when it forced the real spirit into immense turmoil, forcing it to recognize itself with a thoroughness and decisiveness that were not possible for the naive antiquity, to become self-consciousness.


If nothing in the Gospels can be considered as a statement about Jesus anymore, then for the theologian who fights for the distribution and disposal of this man’s clothes, who gave him this or that bitter drink on the cross, who sailed over the Sea of Galilee so many times, the matter has become very serious. We can already see the terrifying character this seriousness must take from the fact that they did not hesitate to use the note of Tacitus, that Christ was executed by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius, as the most striking proof that “a Christ existed.” When did Tacitus write? Did he not write when the preaching of the crucified one had already begun to unsettle the whole world? Does his meager note, which was then the subject of conversation around the world, say or indicate that it was taken from the “secret archive of His Majesty the Emperor” or from “ministerial files”?

If a man named Jesus existed, if this Jesus gave rise to the revolution that shook the world in the name of Christ and gave it a new form, then it is certain that his self-consciousness was not yet distorted and ripped apart by the dogmatic propositions of the evangelical Christ: then the character of his personality is saved. The evangelical Christ, thought of as an actual, historical phenomenon, would be a figure before which humanity would have to shudder, a figure that could only inspire terror and horror.


If the historical Jesus really existed, he could only have been a personality that triggered the opposition of Jewish consciousness, namely the separation of the divine and human in their self-consciousness, without creating a new religious separation and alienation from it, and who withdrew from the forms of legal servitude into his own inner world without worrying about new legal bonds.

But whether this personality existed, whether it opened up the happiness and depth of its self-consciousness to others, thus giving rise to struggle and ultimately the formation of a new religious principle, this question can only be answered when we have completed the work that must follow the criticism of the Gospels, the criticism of the New Testament epistles. We had to start with the criticism of the Gospels because these writings have captivated the mind most through their positive content, because their content seems to be the prerequisite for the epistolary Gospel, as this prerequisite has been assumed until now and this appearance had to be stripped away first. Now it is the turn of the epistles, and with their criticism, the criticism of the original Christian consciousness will also come to an end, and insight into the actual course of its historical development will be gained. We have not yet reflected on the factual and chronological relationship between the various often literal touches of the Gospels and the epistles. We could not do so because the criticism still needs to examine when, by whom, and in what circumstances the letters were written. It is even a question of when the epistolary literature of the New Testament began, and the investigation of the so-called Pauline epistles is still far from its conclusion. In this field, not much, but almost everything still needs to be done.


So far, we only know for certain that the Gospels are of late origin and a work of the long-existing community; however, when they were written and how they are to be classified in the development of the epistolary literature will be taught to us by the criticism of the latter. *)

*) It is indeed already incredulous, but still transcendent, to ask what age is associated with a work such as the one Jesus accomplished. The question is only properly posed as follows: what kind of development of the church and of Christian consciousness was necessary, and how long did it take, to lead to the composition of the Gospels and the creation of the Gospel story.

We had to proceed gradually. When the criticism has an immense library of theological books to burn, it must proceed thoroughly and cautiously, and no one will reproach it for replacing ten thousand books with a single octavo volume. Later, happier times will simplify the matter even more, and they must do so in order to completely set aside the necessary opposition to theological consciousness. However, even later, one may still need elaborations that touch upon the opposition, and give them some interest, as they are, in any case, the monument of a struggle in which freedom, dignity, and humanity of self-consciousness had to fight against a stupidity that had never existed and ruled in the world!

I have provided the characterization of evangelical historiography in every section of my work, and if a comprehensive treatise is required, I have given such in my book “The Divine Art of Holy Historiography” in a way that exhausts all related categories completely.


One more word about the fourth Gospel! What I had to leave undecided in the criticism of it has been fully explained in the present volume of my work, and I have only one more remark to add. The fourth evangelist also knew and used the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, especially in his accounts of the healing of the paralytic (Ch. 5) and the blind man (Ch. 9). It has already been noted that the paralytic of Bethesda is the same as the one mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, and that the fourth evangelist borrowed some of the more important incidents from the synoptic account. The healing of the lame man by Peter, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, is itself only a copy of the original account of the healing of the paralytic, which the fourth evangelist has also borrowed extensively in order to enhance his Gospel. That lame man, who had been afflicted from birth, is taken daily to a certain place (Acts 3:2), just like the paralytic of the fourth Gospel. Peter speaks to him first (ibid. 3:4), but for the natural reason that he had asked him for an alms beforehand. Unnaturally, the fourth evangelist has reversed this, so that Jesus speaks to his sick man first. The people take notice of Peter’s action and run to the apostles in the temple, where the miracle took place, and Peter seizes the opportunity to speak about the resurrection of Christ; the same, but unnaturally motivated attention of the people after the healing of the sick man from Bethesda and the same result of a speech about the resurrection. The sick man of Peter is over forty years old (Acts 4:22), while the fourth evangelist’s has been sick for thirty-eight years. We now know how the fourth evangelist arrived at his number, and we may now say that it is perhaps likely that if the number had a symbolic meaning, although he did not want to express himself definitely about the feast, he intended to give the appearance that it could have been the Passover. That he did not carry out the symbolic meaning purely and certainly can now be explained to us from his poor style of historical writing, just as we can now also say that he wanted to give a symbolic reference to the Samaritan people in that statement of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, a caricature of the synoptic Canaanite woman, but could not carry it out again because of his lack of all plastic power.


That Jesus must heal a blind man, the Fourth Gospel learned from Mark, but that this blind man was born blind is among other things the fault of the author of the Acts of the Apostles, for the story of the man born blind is a copy of the story of the lame man. The miracle of Peter is examined before the court, namely before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-7), as is the miracle of the healing of the blind man; the lame man of Peter also stands before the court (v. 14), as does the blind man of the Fourth Gospel. The Sanhedrin of the Acts of the Apostles forbids the disciples to confess the name of Jesus before the people (4:17); the Sanhedrin of the Fourth Gospel imposes the punishment of excommunication on the confession of the same name. In the account of the Acts of the Apostles, at least everything is coherent and understandable, as far as coherence is possible in the world of wonders, while in the account of the Fourth Gospel, everything is staggering, crazy, and falsified to the smallest detail, thrown out of joint by the overabundance of motifs and with reason completely dead. For example, even the minor detail that the Sanhedrin lets the accused disciples (and the healed man) leave, forms its decision, and then calls the people back into the council chamber to announce the sentence to them, even this minor matter the Fourth Gospel could not even reproduce properly; he has reproduced it in the way we have already characterized in sufficient detail above.

Finally, it should be noted that the leaders in the Acts of the Apostles (4:13) wonder about the language of the disciples, from whom they knew that they were ignorant and not learned in the scriptures, and also that they belonged to the entourage of Jesus, even an unlearned. The Fourth Gospel has reserved this trait for a later occasion (7:15), as he has also learned about the Hall of Solomon (10:23) only from this account in the Acts of the Apostles (3:11, compare 5:12) and in general has often used the structure of this narrative – that the miracle arouses the attention of the people, finally the leaders, and gives rise to speeches and negotiations – for his history, only making it more unnatural in his manner.


Regarding the Old Testament, the Fourth Gospel has also diligently used it and carefully observed some of its indications. The account of the hostility that Jesus experienced from his family, he directed to the point that it was his brothers who showed unbelief towards him, according to Psalm 69:8 and Jeremiah 12:6.  *) The emphasis with which Jesus often says that he has chosen the disciples, and finally the antithesis “you did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16), is an inappropriate rephrasing of the opposition that lies in the confession of the people in Psalm 100:3: “It is He who made us, and not we ourselves”. From Psalm 40:7, Jesus has taken the expression with which he says, “the Scriptures testify of me.” The Book of Wisdom of Solomon, Chapter 16, verse 6, has led the Fourth Evangelist to see that the ancient serpent is “a symbol of salvation”, and he is indebted to the Old Testament for a considerable amount of dogmatic categories.

*) Ps. 69, 8: απηλλοτριωμένος εγενήθην τους αδελφούς μου και ξένος τοϊς υιούς της μητρός μου. Jer. 12, 6: ότι και οι αδελφοί σου ήθέτησάν σου … μὴ πιστεύσῃς ἐν αὐτοῖς. To Mark, of course, these passages were not unknown either, namely Jer. 12, 7 gave him an element to his story of the transfiguration of Jesus in Nazareth  : ᾿Εγκαταλέλοιπα τὸν οἶκόν μου, ἀφῆκα τὴν κληρονομίαν μου, ἔδωκα τὴν . . . .  ψυχήν μου εις χείρας έχθρών αυτής.

The matter of the Fourth [Gospel] has been decided for all eternity, and should anyone still doubt the decision, the criticism of the resurrection story will thunder it in their ear.


To criticize the resurrection story, which will occupy us at the end, we have nothing else to do but to show how one report originated from another and how the contradictions between the reports were inevitable in the way they were created. It would be an insult to the critical method, and would question the purpose of our work, and finally, it would be an insult to honorable men, especially one among them who is counted among Germany’s greatest.

The resurrection of the historical Christ has fallen back into the realm of imagination, where his whole life and suffering had already returned. The idea of his resurrection is only possible for the religious spirit, who is inaccessible to general ideas, and who can only imagine the victory of a principle by thinking of the person who sacrificed himself for it as having risen from the dead as an incorporeal individual, and preserved as such for all eternity.

If the critical method had already proven itself before, and if the criticism of the story of Christ’s suffering was the test of our calculations, it would be unfair to start again from the end, to dissolve the late reports through their enormous contradictions and to work our way back to the original report. The case is decided. We start with Mark and move on to his followers, and it is no longer necessary to demonstrate in detail the groundlessness of the late reports – we have already exposed these baseless claims in their nakedness too many times – the simple reporting of the reports will already be their full and sufficient characterization.

How many weaklings have slandered Edelmann, insulted him without ever having seen a line of his writings. Lilienthal knew him, but did not refute him, and only the excerpts that he shared from his writings – which are not accessible to us – prove what kind of man he was, and with what noble rebellion he tore himself out of the theological fabric of lies. It would be an insult to his memory if we were to specifically expose the invention of the Roman guard by Matthew as an invention, and no theologian has yet refuted Edelmann’s statement, and none will refute it as long as the world stands, the statement that the resurrection of Christ, as the religious spirit imagines it, would not be a resurrection from the dead, but rather a new entry into the same death from which he was to rise. *)

*) Lilienthal, The Good Cause of Revelation II, 164.


Brave and honest Reimarus, you have brought to light the contradictions in the resurrection story as far as your pure and honest mind was able, given the state of criticism at the time, but no one has refuted you.

With Lessing, who defended the honest Fragmentist so chivalrously against the detractors, who knew the power of the ten paragraphs of the honest man and made them even more powerful, and who famously described the taste that theological dishes have for an uncorrupted palate, the theologians who always deal only with people and soul and salvation, that is, with the needs of their poor souls, and never with the matter and an uplifting principle, believe that they can handle it by murmuring languidly: “Lessing would think differently in our times.” You do not know his response, you have not read it; otherwise, you would know what he would say to your murmurings.

Finally, ask yourselves how the principle for which Lessing worked and suffered and for which he died will decide and must decide the matter in our times.


In doing so, it will dissolve the contradictions by representing and explaining them.





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by Neil Godfrey

Virgin of Light (Manichaean Cosmology)

Was a crucifixion in heaven possible? conceivable?


But the following, again, is the cause of men’s dying: A certain virgin, fair in person, and beautiful in attire, and of most persuasive address, aims at making spoil of the princes [= archons] that have been borne up and crucified on the firmament by the living Spirit . . . . 

Acta Archelai 8, describing a third century Manichean answer to the question, Why death?


What gave rise to Gnosticism from within Judaism?

Birger Pearson’s answer is very similar to what I think led to the emergence of Christianity from within Judaism. If gnostics fell away from Judaism by rejecting its god as a blind and ignorant Demiurge who gave a law that enslaved its followers to the ways of the flesh, Christianity offered a positive response to similar circumstances, a new covenant grounded in an allegorical revision of the old rather than an outright rejection of it:

One can hear in this text echoes of existential despair arising in circles of the people of the Cove­nant faced with a crisis of history, with the apparent failure of the God of history: “What kind of a God is this?”‘ (48,1); “These things he has said (and done, failed to do) to those who believe in him and serve him!” (48,13ff.). Such expressions of existential anguish are not without paral­lels in our own generation of history “after Auschwitz.”

Historical existence in an age of historical crisis, for a people whose God after all had been the Lord of history and of the created order, can, and apparently did, bring about a new and revolutionary look at the old traditions and ‘assumptions, a “new hermeneutic”. This new herme­neutic arising in an age of historical crisis and religiocultural syncretism is the primary element in the origin of Gnosticism.

Pearson, Birger. Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1990. p. 51

How to explain Paul’s letters if we see signs of Philo and Seneca in them?

Philo: Continue reading “Miscellany”


New Thoughts on Christian Origins

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by Neil Godfrey

Abraham Schalit

Hi. I’m back again, for better or for worse. Over the past few weeks I have immersed myself in reading but have finally come to a point where I need to pause and take stock. The book I have to blame for pulling me up and forcing me to stop and think afresh is König Herodes : der Mann und sein Werk by Abraham Schalit — published way back in 1969. (I don’t read German but thanks to new technologies I made short work of translating it.) Although Schalit does not address Christian origins his study of King Herod did open up for me a fresh historical perspective through which to re-interpret so much of the diverse material that makes up our earliest Christian sources.

I don’t read German, as I said, and I was of all possible ways alerted to König Herodes through my reading of an essay in another foreign language, modern Hebrew. This one was made available through an international library supply service supplemented by my text-reading and translation technologies: Levine, Israel L. “Magemoth Meshihioth Be-Sof Yemei Ha-Bayith Ha-Sheni (= Messianic Trends at the End of the Second Temple Period).” Messianism and Eschatology, edited by Zvi Baras, Zalman Shazar Centre for the Furtherance of the Study of Jewish History, 1983, pp. 135–52. Now that chapter is going to have to be converted into a new post here soon since I was slightly nonplussed to see it supporting another view I have expressed here, the view that there is little evidence to support the widespread “fact” that the Jewish rebellion of 66-70 CE against Rome was motivated by messianic hopes. That’s for another time.

The key idea in Schalit’s King Herod that has sent my mind into re-examining the question of Christian origins is the thesis that the Roman imperial idea, the ideology, if you will, propagated from the time of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, met with two responses among the Judeans:

  1. Judeans who identified themselves as necessarily separate from gentiles (think of circumcision, sabbaths, marriage restrictions) had nothing in common with the idea of a world united by the values and laws of Rome;
  2. Judeans who opposed the exclusivity of some of their brethren and were wide open to the idea of being a full part of a common humanity.

As for the first kind, the separatists, we see their views set out in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Recall those stories of “men of God” tearing out — not their own hair, but the hair of those Judeans who married gentiles. Those were the lucky ones: Phineas plunged a spear through one racially mixed couple. Daniel refused to pray even in secret when threatened with being thrown into the lion’s den. Sabbath-keepers chose to die rather than protect themselves from an enemy army on the sabbath day. Most of us are familiar enough with the relevant stories from the Old Testament and related books.

That familiarity can perhaps cloud the full significance of a quite different view of God and humanity that is expressed in other places in the same canon. Think of the original authors and readers of stories of Ruth, of Jonah, of Job. Ruth, a gentile, married an Israelite and became the great-grandmother of King David. Job is “from the land of Uz” and he speaks to a God who in the narrative appears to have no particular relation to Israel about a question of justice common to all humanity. Jonah has to learn a lesson about God’s acceptance of gentiles who repent and become righteous without any notion of the Mosaic laws. Several Psalms, Ecclesiastes supposedly by Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach further present a universalist view of God and the human experience.

Surely we have two opposing viewpoints among these Jewish authors. The second view could well find itself at home among Hellenistic writings of philosophers. The significance of that word “Hellenistic” deserves to be pondered at this point. It refers to the cultural world that belonged to the mixing of Greek and barbarian in the wake of Alexander’s conquests of the Persian empire.  The Stoic philosophy that believed in the unity of humanity could trace its roots back to Alexander’s companion Aristotle. The ideas of some Jews or Judeans were evidently at home in such a world. Others were not.

What struck me so strongly about Schalit’s Herod was that those same two viewpoints among Judeans were very much alive and uncomfortable with each other in the time we associate with Christian origins. Herod (ca 37 to 4 or 1 BCE) was an Idumean who sought acceptance as a Jew. He was also a client king of Rome who owed his life and kingship to Augustus. Though King of Judea he embraced wholeheartedly the imperial program of Augustus. At this point, we need to backtrack just a little. . .


Augustus came to power as the final victor after a half-century of civil wars. His imperial propaganda machine went into overdrive. Augustus was the “saviour” and benefactor of “the inhabited earth”. Roman imperial rule was to become synonymous with “the good news” (it was a term of imperial propaganda) of peace, a restoration of “good old fashioned morality”, the spread of humanizing culture as expressed in the arts and literature and philosophy, and rule of law and justice for all. The Roman imperial idea took Alexander’s inheritance of uniting peoples under one divinely chosen ruler and magnified it beyond anything achieved by other successors. The Seleucid empire, for example, essentially took a “hands-off” approach towards subject peoples and let them do their own thing. Antiochus Epiphanes ran into trouble with religious zealots in Judea because he broke that tradition there.

You can probably see where I am headed with these ideas. Apologists have long posited that God prepared the world for Christianity in a way not very different from what I am proposing here — only without God and forethought.

Augustus could trust Herod to embody the full idea of the Roman civilizing mission and Herod did not fail him. Herod’s court attracted artists and intellectuals from other lands; his building program emulated the achievements in Rome itself; like Roman emperors he was the benefactor of the poor; he settled non-Jews in his Judean kingdom. But he could not have himself proclaimed as a god or even a demi-god as was the usual status of such leaders in his part of the world. He could, however, have his scribes fiddle with the genealogical records to show he was a descendant of David and hence — especially given his great accomplishments as king, expanding the borders and undertaking monumental building projects — potentially the promised Davidic Messiah. Unfortunately Herod had too many other faults to persuade enough others to that opinion. But even a powerful personality like Herod could not exist in an environment totally alien to everything he stood for.

The crucial point, it seems to me, is that Herod’s “Judaism” was in synch with that open or universalist idea we encounter in the books of Ruth, Jonah, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach etc. Herod failed to win the approval of the “legalists” and I cannot help but wonder if his failure was felt by others who were on his side with the more open kind of Second Temple religion.

There were evidently a significant number of Judeans who opposed their isolationist kin. And as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls there were equally many Judeans who called down the judgment of God upon those of their kin who compromised with the Laws of Moses.

Now look again at our earliest Christian texts. Do not the gospels, certainly the Synoptic ones of Matthew, Mark and Luke, teach the highest values of the Greco-Roman culture? In case you’ve forgotten, have another quick look over


Recall the Stoic underlay throughout Paul’s epistles.

Recall the Gospel of Matthew opening up its account of Jesus by reminding readers of the sinners and gentiles — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba — in Jesus’s ancestry.

Even recall the Roman imperial motifs in the gospels: The Gospel of Mark beginning with a line from Augustus’s propaganda about the “good news”; the imitation of emperor Vespasian’s miracles of healing the blind and lame; the inversion of the Roman Triumphal procession as Jesus is led to his crucifixion:

See also for further emperor-inversions in Jesus…

Recall, also, some of the earliest archaeological evidence we have for Christianity and how serene and “at home” it looks as if its creators were well-integrated members of society.

I have some sympathy for those who have attempted to locate Christianity’s origins in a Roman imperial conspiracy. But there is no evidence for such a hypothesis. There is even precious little evidence for the proposed motive behind such a conspiracy: a desire to pacify an unusually rebellious people by seducing the Jews into a religion of submission to Roman authority. The Jews were not particularly rebellious in comparison with others who chaffed at Roman rule. No, surely the initiative for a religious idea that did away with the exclusivist identity of many Judeans would have arisen among other Judeans of a different persuasion, of those who felt some embarrassment with their ethnic relatives.

How much more impetus must there have been for Judeans of that universalist mindset to present an “ecumenical” front to their pagan neighbours in the wake of the calamitous results of the Jewish wars in 70 and 135 CE.

Then recall how Jesus himself in the gospels is delineated as a fulfillment of all that can be described as the epitome of “Judaism”. I posted not long ago a lengthy series on one particular study that delves into the details of how the gospel Jesus is created out of so many texts and motifs of the Jewish Scriptures and Messianic viewpoints: Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier / Nanine Charbonnel

If some Judeans of the day did indeed attempt to sideline their “legalistic” family members by producing texts that unambiguously set the universalism of Ruth, Jonah, Sirach, and the rest front and foremost, they could not have done better than make a new successor to Moses, another Joshua, their focus.  One might almost say that if Jesus had not existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

There is much more to add. One must, of course, account for persecutions and sectarianism in early Christian history. But the above is for now enough to set down the basis of initial thoughts on what might have led to the creation of Christianity.


Marketing the Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve just stumbled across this video featuring David Fitzgerald, Richard Carrier, Mark Goodacre, Amy-Jill Levine, Robert M. Price, Raphael Lataster, “and many more”.

MARKETING THE MESSIAH – How Christianity Became A Thing.



Part of the advertising blurb…..

Over the last century, New Testament scholars have examined the text word by word to tease apart the true history from accepted tradition.

In this light-hearted but factual film, we tell the “true” story of early Christianity with the help of twelve biblical scholars, Renaissance masterpieces and humorous animation.

It’s neither a film about faith nor a film attacking or making fun of Christianity. It’s an honest attempt to piece together a very complex and fascinating story that everyone will enjoy.


Symmetry in the Legends Surrounding Jesus’ Birth and Death

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by Tim Widowfield

[Note: I’m offering the following as a diversion to get our minds off this terrible timeline. –taw]

William Blake, (1757-1827), The Resurrection, c. 1805

A few years back, I published a post concerning the date of Jesus’ birth (Why Is Christmas on the 25th of December?), in which we briefly touched on the idea of symmetry between Jesus’ birth and death. I quoted Augustine, who noted the belief, current at the time, that Christ’s conception occurred on March 25.

For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th. (Augustine, On the Trinity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

Over time, I’ve become convinced that we can gain more insight into the history of the legends applied to Jesus by examining the symmetry between the incarnation and death legends. Here are a few points to mull over. Continue reading “Symmetry in the Legends Surrounding Jesus’ Birth and Death”


New French Mythicist Book

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by Neil Godfrey

My routine was interrupted this week with the arrival of a new book in the mail, Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier by Nanine Charbonnel. Nanine Charbonnel is an emeritus professor of philosophy who describes herself as a specialist in hermeneutics. The publisher of her new book has given prominence to the fact that it contains a preface by Thomas Römer.

I once posted on another French philosopher who contributed articles and books presenting a case that Jesus originated as a mythical figure, Paul Louis Couchoud, and would like to do the same for Nanine Charbonnel. Unfortunately, my high school and one year of undergraduate French is very rusty indeed and I rely heavily on machine translation as my first foray into what lies before me. Expect me to appeal to readers more fluent in French to help out from time to time.

I think I can post a machine translation (with minor corrections, added fluencies and clarifications from me) of Römer’s preface without infringing copyright. I have changed the formatting (paragraphing, highlighting) totally, though:

This book which will surprise and undoubtedly also disturb many readers could also have been entitled “The Invention of Jesus”. Its author, Nanine Charbonnel, professor of philosophy breaks a taboo that has existed for more than a century in academic research on Jesus of Nazareth, the origins of Christianity and the New Testament.

From the beginning of the so-called “historico-critical” exegesis arises the question of the “historical Jesus”. His virgin birth, his encounter with the devil at the beginning of his activity, his miracles, even his resurrection of the dead, are understood by the Rationalists as mythical reinterpretations of a human figure.

  • Thus, Ernest Renan, in his inaugural lecture at the College de France, spoke of “the man Jesus” who “reached the highest religious level that ever before man attained” was “deified” after his death (OEuvres Complètes, n, 329-330). In 1862 these words caused a scandal and provoked the temporary dismissal of Renan from his professorship at the College de France.
  • Renan’s statement is part of what is now called “the first quest” of the historical Jesus, which began in the eighteenth century with the posthumous publication of the texts of Hermann Samuel Reimarus by the philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Reimarus highlighted the historical Jesus who never wanted to found a new religion, even the Church, but who was an eschatological preacher. His failure was transformed by his disciples who created the myth of his resurrection and ascension. A distinction was made between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith”, a distinction accepted until today by the totality of university researchers and historians.

At the beginning of the research on the historical Jesus, the question of the proofs of his existence (outside the New Testament texts) was nonetheless posed.

  • In the middle of the nineteenth century, Bruno Bauer argued that Christianity born in the second century was a sort of syncretism combining different religious ideas (Jewish, Greek, Roman). Jesus is not at the origin of this Christianity, but a literary fiction to give this “new religion” a founder.
  • At the beginning of the twentieth century the German philosopher Arthur Drews published a book The Christ Myth, in which he considered the figure of Jesus as the personification of an earlier Christic myth, showing that all the epithets of Jesus were borrowed from mythologies Jewish and Greek.

These theories remained marginal however and, despite the fact that in the 1st and 2nd centuries there are no texts outside the New Testament clearly attesting to the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth, the historicity of such a character is almost no longer questioned.

  • Thus Daniel Marguerat, eminent exegete of the New Testament, says: “the meaning of his deeds and actions, not his existence, is debated today” (p.13, in his Introduction to the edited volume Jesus de Nazareth. Nouvelles approches d’une énigme, Geneva, Labor and Fides, 1998).

According to Nanine Charbonnel, author of this book, this distinction between the historical Jesus and the reinterpretations of his life and death in the Gospels has been detrimental to research. Relying on a “rationalization” of evangelical texts, it has prevented the deep understanding of these texts by questioning them almost exclusively from this idea of ​​a historical core and thus seeking the historical basis of certain pericopes as well as indications of borrowing from Judaism or reinterpretations after the death of Jesus in others. Faced with the affirmation shared by believing scholars and agnostic intellectuals that Jesus is a historical figure of whom we know almost nothing historically, the author of this book proposes to read the New Testament texts from the idea that Jesus Christ would be a “paper figure”. The philosopher’s approach includes a severe critique of hermeneutics, and in particular the current called “hermeneutic phenomenology”.

This book proposes to read the Gospel tales as midrashim, reminding us rightly that it is impossible to read the New Testament texts without locating them in their relation to the Old Testament (in Hebrew and Greek). As a midrash, an exegesis and reinterpretation of earlier texts, evangelical tales set up a theology of fulfillment through narratives, drawing largely on the texts and themes of the Hebrew Bible. Nanine Charbonnel shows it in pedagogical tables indicating the different borrowing and rewriting that can be found behind the tales of the Gospels. She then details the function of the characters appearing in the Gospels, like the twelve apostles, representing the twelve tribes of the new Israel, and Mary, the Jewish people who begets the Messiah. Jesus is the new Adam, the new Moses, the new Elijah and the new Elishah, but also the new Joshua and the incarnation of the “suffering servant”, a messiah who brings together different messianic traits. The Gospels no longer appear as compilations but as creative works repeating and transforming statements in the Hebrew Bible.

To understand the figure of Jesus Christ as a sublime invention of the human mind is the main thesis of this book. It is possible that many readers are reluctant to follow the author in this way. Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny the midrashic character of many pericopes of the Gospels. Everyone will be free to draw conclusions from this midrashic reading which will have the great merit of going beyond the dichotomy between “myth” and “history”.

Charbonnel and Römer

Before I post an outline of Charbonnel’s discussion in her opening chapter I want to address the word “midrash” and how it has been related to the gospels. I don’t believe this will seriously detract from her presentation, or from the theses presented by others who have used the term in similar ways, but I think we should be aware of scholarly differences pertaining to the term whenever we see it.



Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics

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by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman has a new critic. I have just been notified (thanks, emailers!) of a new paper uploaded to academia.edu by a philosophy lecturer at the University of Oslo,

Why Jesus Most Likely Never Existed: Ehrman’s Double Standards

by Narve Strand (link is to CV).

I especially liked his conclusion since it expresses my own stance perfectly:

We don’t even have to hold this as a positive thesis, only to point out that Paul believed in this figure and that nothing follows from this about his existence. A consistent ahistorical stance here is like atheism: The only thing we really need to show is that the historicist doesn’t have real evidence that would make his purely human Jesus existing more probable than not.

Narve’s engagement with Ehrman’s arguments are spot on. Here is the beginning of his response to Ehrman’s appeal to criteria of authenticity:

Ehrman of course would say he doesn’t take the New Testament as good, reliable evidence. Not straightforwardly, anyway. His take is more sophisticated: The trick is to get behind the author and his agenda, digging out the real nuggets of historical information by a special set of authenticity-criteria. But: If the text itself breaks the basic rules of evidence (cf. E1-4), how can introducing more rules help? You can’t milk good, reliable information from bad, unreliable evidence (NE1-3) like that. To think that you can, like Ehrman clearly does (e.g. ch. 8), is sheer alchemy.

And again,

Bad evidence plus bad evidence equals bad evidence. Multiple attestation of hearsay is still hearsay. Here the rule is totally useless.

Ehrman lets his lay readers down badly, a point I am glad Narve brings to wider notice:

The insufficiency and unreliability of authenticity-criteria is well-known in biblical studies (see e.g. Allison 1998; 2008; 2009; Avalos 2007; Bird 2006; Le Donne 2002; Porter 2000; 2006; 2009). By not reporting this simple fact to his lay audience, Ehrman creates a false or misleading impression of the state of research in his own field.

On Ehrman’s two “knock-down” arguments, Continue reading “Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics”


What Christians Said About Jesus Before the New Testament Canon …. a post for Paul George

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by Neil Godfrey

Another post I promised a commenter, this time Paul George. The point here is to clarify the grounds upon which Nodet and Taylor claimed that our canonical gospels are not the best place to start in order to understand Christian origins. The evidence they cited for this claim came from the Christian writings we have prior to the appearance in the literature of any explicit knowledge of our gospels. Our gospels evidently carried very little (= zero) weight as authoritative information about Jesus until the late second century.

Before there was a “written authoritative reference point”, that is, before the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were embraced as standard narratives about Jesus, how did Christians write about Jesus?

Ignatius of Antioch (we will assume here the conventional identity and date for Ignatius, with his writings dated early second century)

For Ignatius, the documents about Jesus to be relied upon were not written in ink:

My documents are Jesus Christ; my unimpeachable documents are his cross and resurrection, and the faith that comes from him. — Phil. 8:2

The Roman Creed

1. I believe in God the Father Almighty
2. And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord;
3. Who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary;
4. Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried;
5. The third day he rose from the dead;
6. He ascended into heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
8. And the Holy Ghost;
9. The Holy Church;
10. The forgiveness of sins;
11. The resurrection of the body (flesh)

Ignatius speaks often of Christ, but refers to precise events only in succinct statements which are very close to the primitive kerygma—the proclamation of the saving death and resurrection—or which resemble those of the Roman Creed. (Nodet and Taylor, 4)

Clement of Rome (writing 15 years before Ignatius)

As Christian Scripture he knows at most 1 Cor and recalls the context of crisis in which it was written. He refers often to salvation in Jesus Christ, but, like Ignatius, without ever alluding to the facts of the life of Jesus. Only once does he cite words of Jesus (13:2), but the logion is not known in this form in the NT, which shows that for Clement there is no official text (although that does not, of course, exclude the existence of some documents). He speaks of Jesus only by way of the OT. Thus, when speaking of Christ as the suffering servant, he makes no direct reference to his life but uses only a biblical passage (the song of Isa 53:1-12). It is interesting to note that Heb 10:5 does exactly the same: “Coming into the world, Christ said: ‘You did not want sacrifice or oblation, but you formed for me a body [. . .]’ (Ps 40:7).” (Nodet and Taylor, 5)

The Didache (widely judged to be first century CE)

The Didache knows and interprets the OT. It also quotes words of Jesus related to the Sermon on the Mount, but without a precise literary link with the Matthaean text, and a very similar version of the Lord’s Prayer; there is probably a common origin in the liturgy. (Nodet and Taylor, 5)

Didache chapter 9:
1. And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus:
2. First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child; to thee be glory for ever.”
3. And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever.
4. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”
5. But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord’s Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

Not mentioned by Nodet and …. but surely significant is that the Didache interprets the eucharist as a thanksgiving meal without any relationship to a death of Jesus.

The Didache further admonishes a high regard be held for those who spread the word, for the importance of staying with likeminded saints and warning against false teachers. The scenario appears to be entirely oral. No written gospels (nor even epistles, for that matter) to rely upon to maintain true teaching.

Epistle of Barnabas

The Epistle of Barnabas is a Christian interpretation of traditions from the OT or related texts . . . . This interpretation is totally based on a typological reading of the OT, with several facts or words relating to Jesus, but in a rather stylized form and in any case without a literary link with the gospels as we know them. (Nodet and Taylor, 5)

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp of Smyrna, whose background is similar to that of Ignatius of Antioch, is familiar with the writings of Paul and makes a number of references to them. He has some knowledge of Matt, perhaps in the form of written notes (compilations of logia), but certainly not as a normative work. (Nodet and Taylor, 5)

Polycarp also speaks of being attentive to the word handed down orally in order to refute those who deny the incarnation.

The Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas belongs to the timeless world of apocalyptic and knows no Scripture apart from itself (cf. also Rev 22:18 f.). (Nodet and Taylor, 5)

Continue reading “What Christians Said About Jesus Before the New Testament Canon …. a post for Paul George”


Another thesis introducing a Simonion gnosis into Paul’s letters

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by Neil Godfrey

Prosper Alfaric

If you find the following mix of machine translation and my own editing horrific enough you may prefer to read the original French itself that I copy afterwards. But first, some background will help. Earlier in the article several redactions of Paul’s epistles have been postulated (credit to Turmel):

The original letters of Paul:

inspired by his faith in the forthcoming restoration of the kingdom of Israel which had been announced by Jesus and which constituted the initial substance of the Gospel.

A second redacted version had been attributed to Marcion and

corrected this messianic nationalism by the anti-Jewish gnosis of Marcion.

A third series of redactions produced the versions closer to what we have today, and

maintained the Gnostic Spiritualism of [Marcion’s edition] by dismissing or hiding its anti-Judaism.

The following passage we read a modified hypothesis:

(2) After the revolt of the Jews in 66 and their final crushing in 70, a strong current of anti-Judaism spread in the eastern part of the Roman Empire but especially in Syria. The Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem had retreated to the confines of Transjordan, where they lingered, under the name of “Nazarenes” or “Ebionites”, away from the rest of the Christianity, almost foreign to his life and evolution, so that they soon became heretics.

Antioch became the great metropolis of the Christian world. There was formed a “school of theology” which claimed Simon, the former Esmoun of the Phoenician coast, became the saviour god of the Samaritans. It repudiated the God of the Jews, considered the spirit of evil. It was said that Simon, whose name means “obedient”, had come from heaven to obey the will of the Most High and bring to men the “Gnosis”, that is, the true knowledge, that of their origin, of their nature and their end. The mind, it was said, came from God but fell because of an original fault, in the bonds of the flesh. It can recover its original purity and return to lost Paradise only by rejecting the traditional laws, especially those of the Jews, made to enslave him, and professing a docile faith in the liberating doctrine of Simon. With him, by the grace of the supreme God of whom he is sent, one is freed from sin. It is liberated from this mortal body to reach the life of the spirit by the practice of mortification, abstinence and continence.

It is a Christian transposition of this simonian gnosis offered to us in the econd redaction of Paul’s epistles. It differs singularly from the first. If it was added by a series of skilful interpolations and convenient suppressions, it was because she found there points of attachment which allowed her to benefit from the prestige of the Apostle without risking the disfavor of novelty in religion.

The original

(2) Après la révolte des Juifs en 66 et leur écrasement final en 70, un fort courant d’anti-judaïsme se répandit dans la partie orientale de l’empire romain mais surtout en Syrie. Lés Judéo-Chrétiens de Jérusalem s’étaient repliés sur les confins de la Transjordanie, où ils végétèrent, sous le nom de « Nazaréens » ou d’ « Ebionites », à l’écart du reste de la Chrétienté, presque étrangers à sa vie et à son évolution, de sorte qu’ils firent bientôt figure d’hérétiques.

Antioche devint la grande métropole du monde chrétien. Il s’y était formé une Ecole de théologie qui se réclamait de Simon, l’ancien Esmoun de la côte phénicienne, devenu le Dieu Sauveur des Samaritains. L’on y répudiait le Dieu des juifs, considéré comme le Génie du mal. On y disait que Simon, dont le ùom signifie « obéissant » était venu du ciel pour obéir à la volonté du Très-Haut et apporter aux hommes la « Gnose », c’est-à-dire la Science véritable, celle de leur origine, de leur nature et de leur fin. L’esprit, expliquait-on, est issu de Dieu mais tombé par suite d’une faute originelle, dans les liens de la chair. Il ne peut recouvrer sa pureté première et regagner le Paradis perdu qu’en rejetant les lois traditionnelles, surtout celles des juifs, faites pour l’asservir, et en professant une foi docile en la doctrine libératrice de Simon. Avec lui, par la grâce du Dieu suprême dont il est l’envoyé, on s’affranchit du péché. On se libère de ce corps mortel pour atteindre à la vie de l’esprit par la pratique de la mortification, de l’abstinence et de la continence.

C’est une transposition chrétienne de cette Gnose simonienne que nous offre la seconde rédaction des Epîtres de Paul. Elle diffère singulièrement de la première. Si elle lui a été adjointe par une série d’interpolations ingénieuses et de suppressions opportunes, c’est qu’elle y trouvait des points d’attache qui lui permettaient de bénéficier du prestige de l’Apôtre sans risquer la défaveur qui s’attache aux nouveautés en matière de religion.

Alfaric, Prosper. 1956. “Les Epitres de Paul.” Bulletin Du Cercle Ernest Renan 35 (April). p. 4

Please note, though, that I present the above as a summary of an idea that has connections with others that have been presented on this blog, especially though Roger Parvus’s posts — in the last of which he finds himself leaning towards a historical Jesus at the root of it all. As for my own views they are far from decided. There is simply so much material I have yet to consider and think through.


Love of Enemies in Antiquity

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by Neil Godfrey

Quotations from an article I followed up for some reason I can’t quite recall. For those interested, and at the cost of misleading readers into thinking the author’s article was overly complimentary of pre-Christian thought …..

On the other hand there is a thought which can be found in the tradition of the Roman Stoics Musonius, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius which leads the reader in the direction of this ethic. Musonius maintains that a true philosopher would never take someone to court for slander. He doesn’t mind being abused, beaten or spat at because he realizes ‘that human beings commit most sins as a result of ignorance or lacking knowledge [namely of the real good and evil]; they stop as soon as they have been taught otherwise’. The Stoa and the whole of pagan antiquity doesn’t know of original sin. Musonius overlooks the phenomenon of the weakness of human will too. So he arrives at a naive anthropological simplicity like that. But because of this conviction the philosopher as Musonius sees him is constantly ready to practise forbearance (συγγνώμη) and regards retaliation (άντιποιεΐν κακώς) and ‘biting back’ (άντιδάκνειν) to be beneath contempt. It is not suffering injustice that is humiliating in his view, but doing injustice.44 Epictetus goes a step further than Musonius when he declares that it is part of the life of a true cynic that while being beaten like a donkey, he does not cease loving the person beating him, as if he were his father or brother.45

44 Muson. Io (see O. Hense 52-7. Here there are parallels, too.) We find these thoughts also in Marcus Aurelius’s writings, e.g. 6.6; 7.22.26; 8.51; 9.13; 18.15-18. The word in 7.22 is often wrongly translated: here it is not a question of loving those who have sinned against us, but of loving those who have fallen (τούς πταίοντας). Seneca and Epictetus only deal with variations on the thoughts of Musonius. Cf. John Piper, ‘Love your enemies‘ (SNTSMS 38; Cambridge, 1979) 21-7.

45 Arr. Epict. diss. 3.22.53f.

. . . .

In Plato’s dialogue Crito Socrates puts forward a principle and from it deduces two conclusions which signify a revolution in fundamental Greek convictions. The principle is: One may never commit injustice (ούδαμώς δει άδικεΐν).’ The conclusions: so one may not repay injustice with injustice either (άνταδικείν) or evil with evil (άντικακουργείν).47

47 Pl. Cri. 49b/c.

Reiser, Marius. 2001. “Love of Enemies in the Context of Antiquity.” New Testament Studies 47 (04).


Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 4 / Conclusion – Historical Jesus?

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by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded thus:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my revised hypothesis basically adds only two things to Loisy’s scenario: (1) I would identify the above “Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition” as Saturnilians. (2) I would identify the above “mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory” as the Vision of Isaiah. I also said, earlier in this post, that my recognition of the role the Vision plays in the Pauline letters had changed my perspective on a number of early Christian issues. Before closing I would like to say a few things about perhaps the most significant of them: the historicity of Jesus.

Continuing and concluding the series ….

Historical Jesus?

I am now much more open to the possibility that the version of the Vision used by Paul’s interpolators included the so-called “pocket gospel.” The Jesus of that gospel is docetic. He only appears to be a man. Such a Jesus could explain curious Pauline passages such as this one:

Thus it is written: There was made the first man, Adam, living soul; the last Adam lifegiving spirit. But the spiritual is not first, the first is the living, then the spiritual. The first man, being of earth, is earthy, the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, so too are the earthy. As is the heavenly, so too are the heavenly. And as we have borne the likeness of the earthy, we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly… (1 Cor. 15, 45-49)

Commentators say that we have to understand here a resurrected Christ as the second man; that Christ too was first earthy, and became lifegiving spirit by his resurrection. But notice that the resurrection is not mentioned in the passage. And it doesn’t mention a transformation for Christ from earthy to spiritual. We are the ones who are said to be in need of transformation.

Moving on: In the pocket gospel there is not a real birth. As Enrico Norelli explains it:

If the story is read literally, it is not about a birth. It’s about two parallel processes: the womb of Mary, that had enlarged, instantly returned to its prior state, and at the same time a baby appears before her— but, as far as can be determined, without any cause and effect relationship between the two events. (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, pp. 52-53, my translation)

This could explain why, in Gal. 4:4, Jesus is “come of a woman, come under the Law.” The use of the word γενόμενον [genômenon] (to be made/to become) instead of the far more typical γεννάω [gennâô] (to be born) could signal a docetic birth. The Jesus of the Vision comes by way of woman—and since she was Jewish, he thereby came under the Law—but he was not really born of her.

The pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look . . . at what a historical Jesus could have been like.

And, in general, with the pocket gospel as background the interpretation of the crucifixion by “the rulers of this world” in 1 Cor. 2:8 ceases to be an issue. Likewise the improbable silences in the Pauline letters. We can account for why, apart from the crucifixion and resurrection, there is practically nothing in the Paulines about what Jesus did or taught. For the Jesus of the pocket gospel is not presented as a teacher. Not a single teaching is put in his mouth. He is not even any kind of a leader. He is not said to have gathered disciples during his lifetime. All we get is this:

And when he had grown up, he performed great signs and miracles in the land of Israel and Jerusalem. (Asc. Is. 11:18)

These “signs and miracles” need be no more than the kind of bizarre things that, according to the pocket gospel, accompanied his so-called birth. They would be like the curious coincidences that happen to people all the time. But in his case they took on added significance once someone had a vision of him resurrected from the dead. “Hey, I remember once he put his hand on Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick, and it was weird the way she seemed to get better right away.”

In other words, I think the pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look than the canonical gospels at what a historical Jesus could have been like. He was not a teacher or even a leader of any kind. If he went up to Jerusalem with some fellow believers in an imminent Kingdom of God—perhaps a group of John the Baptist’s followers—he was not the leader of the group. Once in Jerusalem he may have done or said something that got him pulled out from the others and crucified. That would have been the end of the story. Except that another member of the group had a vision of him resurrected, and interpreted it as meaning that the Kingdom of God was closer than ever. Jesus thereby began to take on an importance all out of proportion with his real status as a nobody. The accretions began. And the excuses for why no one had taken much notice of him before.

Why Jesus? Why not a vision of a more significant member of the group? Why not a vision of a resurrected John the Baptist? I don’t know. Maybe John was still alive at the time. Maybe Jesus just happened to be the first member of the group to meet a violent end. Hard to know.

And I’m not sure whether, according to Bayesian analysis, such a further reduction of Jesus increases or decreases the probability of his historical existence. But it does seem to me that such an extremely minimal Jesus can reasonably fit the kind of indications present in the Pauline letters. So sadly, I find I must change my affiliation from Mythicist to Agnostic (but leaning Historical).



Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded with

. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.

Continuing . . . .

What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. 


4th Jan 2021: See comments below for revisions by Roger Parvus to his original post:

The Real Paul

If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…

Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)

My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3”


Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded with

Thus I think we need to look between 70 and 135 both for the author of the Vision and for the one who projected it into Paul’s letters. We are not necessarily looking for two people. There is no reason why one and the same person could not have done both tasks.

Continuing . . . .

The Best Candidate

To my mind easily the best candidate for both tasks is a man whose name is variously rendered as Saturnilus, Saturninus, or Satornilos. A Latin mistranslation of the name in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is believed to be the source of the confusion. The original Greek version of that work is not extant, so there is presently no way to be sure. In this post I will use the first rendering: Saturnilus

Antioch of Syria

The information available on this man consists primarily of two paragraphs in the aforementioned Against Heresies (1.24.1-2). Though meager, I think it is sufficient to establish him as our lead candidate. He lived in Syrian Antioch and founded a Christian community (or communities) sometime within our target period of 70 to 135 CE. Prior to becoming a Christian he was a Simonian. Irenaeus says he was a disciple of Menander, Simon of Samaria’s successor. At some point, however, Saturnilus apparently switched his allegiance. Although Simon and Menander had put themselves forward as Savior figures, it is Jesus who is named as Savior in the teaching of Saturnilus. Alfred Loisy puts it this way:

In many respects, therefore, he (Saturnilus) was a forerunner of Marcion. Though much indebted to Simon and Menander, he, unlike them, does not set himself up as the Saviour sent from on high, but attributes that role to Jesus. Consequently, heretic though he be, we cannot deny him the qualification of Christian, while, from the Christian point of view, Simon and Menander qualify rather for Antichrists. (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 302).

Justin Martyr includes Saturnilians among those who consider themselves Christians, though he himself views them as “atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of him” (Dialogue with Trypho, 35). Justin’s doctrinal objection is that “some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” According to Irenaeus, Saturnilus believed God to be “one Father unknown to all,” and that the God of the Jews was in reality just one of the lower angels, one of the seven who made the world. Such beliefs are not explicitly present in the Vision of Isaiah but may be implicit. God there is called Father but never maker or creator of the world. In fact, the world is “alien” (Asc. Is. 6;9), and so is the body (Asc. Is. 8:14), and so are the inhabitants of the world (Asc. Is. 9:1). True, the angels of the world are not referred to as its makers either, but they appear to have been in control of it from the beginning and are not afraid to say “We alone, and apart from us no one” (Asc. Is. 10:13). Regarding Jesus, Saturnilus was a docetist, teaching that he only appeared to be a real human being (Against Heresies 1.24.2). As we have already seen, the Jesus of the Vision’s “pocket gospel” was docetic.

Saturnilus’ Simonian past, however, provides us with another connection to the Vision of Isaiah. The main storyline of that writing is an ancient one, going back, as Richard Carrier points out in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 45-47), to the Descent of Inanna. It is a storyline that has been adapted and adopted many times in history, including by Simon of Samaria and Menander. The points of contact are obvious in what Hippolytus says about Simon’s teaching: Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2″

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