Tag Archives: Crucifixion of Jesus

“Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis

If you still think that to say that “rulers of this age” (demons) crucified Jesus means that they crucified him in one of the heavens you have missed my recent post,  What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”. More easily forgivable, you have also missed or forgotten a series by Roger Parvus back in 2013, in particular A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 7: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel.

In the first of those posts I quote from the Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate) the crystal clear belief that the head demon was responsible for crucifying Jesus on earth.

Roger Parvus presents the argument that Paul believed Jesus descended to earth where he was crucified by the demonic forces. Parvus’s argument draws upon an analysis of the Ascension of Isaiah to support his case.

While it is certainly not impossible that demons who are busy fighting each other in the lower heavens could also crucify a Jesus who had descended from upper heavens for that purpose, I personally favour Roger Parvus’s view. Jesus descended to earth for a short time for the sole purpose of being crucified, descending into hell, being resurrected and returning to his original place in heaven.

 

Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Previous posts in this series:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου], who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age [ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου] understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. — 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
  1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
  2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Each heading represents an argument Gene Miller addresses.

In 1 Cor 2:6-8 Pau’s “rulers” (archai) is a pesonalization of the spiritual powers “elemental spirits/principles” (stoicheia tou kosmou) in Col 2:20

Miller responds: Paul would be unlikely to use an ambiguous term (archai) that could mean either human or demonic authorities to indicate “elemental spirits”.

Comment: Such an assertion needs to be accompanied by a justification.

In Rom 13:1-7 Paul considers the Roman authorities to be “a providential and beneficent power” so he would not in 1 Cor 2:6-8 accuse them of being ignorant and crucifying Jesus. 

Miller responds: Paul’s view of Roman authorities is irrelevant since he believed it was the Jewish authorities who were responsible for crucifying Jesus. In support Miller cites Acts 13:27-29 and 1 Thes 2:14-15.

Comment: The author of Acts elsewhere portrays a view of Paul that is in stark contrast to the Paul of the letters. That author known as Luke appears to have been creating a Paul more suited to the “orthodoxy” of his day. The passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is of very doubtful authenticity according to a number of scholars so cannot be relied upon as a sound basis for an argument.

I Cor 2:6 says the “rulers of this age” have a certain kind of wisdom, implying in a sense that they are more than human.

Miller responds: In this context, Paul has been speaking only of human wisdom. Ergo, the rulers of this age have a human wisdom and are therefore human. Compare 1:19, 20 where Paul speaks of the wise person, the scribe or teacher, the philosopher of this world. read more »

Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.

Angelic rulers

I continue my recent post, Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change: this post begins to address  Gene Miller’s argument that when Paul wrote that the “rulers of the age” crucified “the Lord of Glory” he meant human, worldly authorities, viz. Pilate, crucified Jesus. Miller’s article, “Archontōn tou aiōnos toutou—A New Look at 1 Corinthians 2:6–8,” JBL 91 (1972) 522–28, was published in 1972. Why bother with a 46 year old article? In the previous post we saw indications of its continuing relevance in major commentaries. In 2001 Chris Forbes of the Department of Ancient History (not a theologian!) described Miller’s article as presenting a

particularly forceful case . . . [arguing] that (at least for this verse) the view common since Cullmann that both human rulers and their angelic/demonic counterparts are intended “needs finally to be laid to rest”. (Forbes, p. 68)

We start with Miller’s translation of 1 Cor 2:6-8

Yet we speak of wisdom among the mature, not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are being brought to an end; on the contrary, we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God decreed before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew. For, if they had known (it), they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Miller opens with two passages that scholars have used to argue that “rulers of this age” refers to supernatural powers.

[Héring] cites especially Col 2:15, where the hostile powers over whom Christ triumphs in the cross are called archas kai exousias, and Rom 8:38, where archai is used to describe one of the forces which might be thought to separate men from the “love of God.”

Let’s look at those two passages:

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Col 2:15 NASB)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities [=archai], nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers , nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38f NASB)

Miller responds to these verses as follows:

It is immediately apparent that in neither case is there any certainty that the reference is to supernatural or spiritual powers. This is particularly true of the passage in Romans; in fact, the context of the passage seems to favor the opposite conclusion. Paul mentions specifically “angels” (angeloi) and “powers” (dynameis); the archai, then, might reasonably be supposed to be human authorities. This interpretation would certainly be consistent with the situation of the church in the first century. (p. 522)

So we see that Miller presents no argument to justify interpretations that contradict what was the virtual consensus in 1972; rather, he simply asserts that “there is no certainty” that spiritual powers are meant. I would have thought that the passage in Colossians that speaks of Jesus having disarmed the rulers could not possibly be saying that Roman rulers were suddenly disarmed by the death and resurrection of Christ.

But Miller wants us to look “particularly” at Romans 8:38 because, he asserts, the context actually suggests that Paul means human rulers. After all, Paul mentioned angels and powers in the same sentence and since these obviously refer to heavenly beings it surely is “more likely” that he must mean human rulers when he speaks of “principalities/archai” in between those two — so Miller asserts. The only way I can follow Miller’s reasoning here is that he begins with the assumption that Paul must surely have been talking about Pilate, full stop.

As we saw above, Miller’s essay has been cited as a persuasive argument so presumably a good number of scholars are inclined to view such an assertion sympathetically. read more »

Who Depoliticized Early Christianity?

Who killed Jesus and why?

With the Roman occupation of Palestine and its tense atmosphere of messianic hopefuls within the first century CE, the horrors of crucifixion were a real and ever present reality for messianic claimants like Jesus. A reality of which Paul and the first Christians would have been all too aware. Simply put, [Richard] Carrier inadvertently depoliticizes early Christianity. (Daniel N. Gullotta 2016, “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts“, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, pp. 332-333, emphasis mine)

Do you know who else depoliticized early Christianity? Early Christians. Paul. The evangelists. The early Church Fathers. In short, everyone.

New Testament authors are clear about why Jesus died and who is responsible. According to “our oldest sources” (to invoke a scholarly term), Jesus had done nothing worthy of punishment. As Hyam Maccoby put it:

According to the Gospels, Jesus was the victim of a frame-up. His aims were purely religious, and in pursuing them, he had fallen foul of the Jewish religious establishment, who, in order to get rid of him, concocted a political charge, and managed to hoodwink the Roman governor, Pilate, into believing it. When Pilate still showed reluctance to execute Jesus, they pressed the political charge until he was left with no option: ‘The Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar; any man who claims to be king is defying Caesar.”’ (John 19.7). (Maccoby 1984, “Who Killed Jesus?” London Review of Books, emphasis mine)

Englewood Dam

A narrow, precarious path

The story of Jesus’ death, followed by the successful spread of Christianity as related in the gospels and Acts, reminds me of the road across Englewood Dam. The dam, located northwest of Dayton, Ohio, protects the area from flooding by the Stillwater River. A number of dams in the area, all built after the Great Dayton Flood, have a similar design. The levees on either side are enormous, allowing the reservoirs to retain billions of gallons of water.

The first time I drove across the levee, I was struck by how easy it seemed (if not for the guardrails) to veer slightly to the left or the right, tumbling 100 feet down the embankment into the trees. The story of the Passion follows a similarly narrow, but more circuitous path. If Jesus was a rebel, a brigand, then he really was an enemy of Rome. And that just won’t do, will it? However, if Jesus did nothing but teach and heal, then why would Pilate have put him to death? Somehow, Jesus must have provoked someone to cause this chain of events, but who?

According to the New Testament, it was “the Jews.” The Jewish leaders were jealous of his fame, or else they worried the people would believe in him and cause the Romans to come and destroy them. (See John 11:45-53.) And here we see one of the great uses of the hypothesized historical Jesus. A reconstructed Jesus allows NT scholars in the post-Holocaust world to reinterpret verses like these: read more »

How not to get oneself crucified by Pilate

Christiansborg Palace. Image via Wikipedia

Another “guest post”, one might say:

It is no more imaginable that the British vice-regent of India should sentence a Hindu to death for expressing heterodox opinions about the teachings of Buddha, than it is that a Roman procurator should interfere on account of an accusation like the one made against Jesus, according to Mark 14:58 . . . and that he should do so in the face of admittedly conflicting evidence. He is reported to have said:

“I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.”

The Gospel according to St. John takes this statement in a symbolic sense. Taken literally as it is in Mark, it does not seem to imply anything socially dangerous.

Let us suppose that a man of our own day should be accused of having said: “I will destroy Christiansborg [i.e. one of the principal royal palaces at Copenhagen, . . . occupied by the Rigsdag, the Supreme Court, and various government departments], but within three days I will build another palace of much greater spiritual beauty.”

The court would then first make sure that he had really said such a thing. Then it would inquire whether the defendant actually had taken any steps toward the material destruction of the palace. This not being the case, the matter would undoubtedly be dropped. Any inquiry whether steps had been taken toward the building of a heavenly Christiansborg may be regarded as quite out of the question. read more »

Historical Jesus: two vacuous responses from Dunn on Price

Just two points from James D. G. Dunn’s response to Robert M. Price’s chapter, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point”, in The Historical Jesus: Five Views are addressed here. Maybe will address more over time in other posts. Dunn’s responses are lazy and insulting dismissals of Price’s arguments, not rebuttals based on logic or evidence, as remarked upon in recent comments. It is instructive to compare Price’s own response to Dunn’s chapter in the same book. No insult. No cavalier dismissals. But a pointed rebuttal from the evidence, scholarship and all tied together with rigid and nonfallacious logic. Price’s responses to Dunn make for much more interesting reading. I should highlight them more with posts in the future.

Meanwhile, the two points I address here are Dunn’s insult and avoidance of what Price’s stated about

  1. the varying dates and scenarios for Jesus’ crucifixion in the early Christian evidence, and
  2. the question of Paul’s meeting James the brother of the Lord read more »

Overimaginative images of Jesus on a cross?

Evangelical Textual Criticism discusses the successfully defended thesis of Gunnar Samuelsson that the ancient textual evidence fails to support our image of Jesus dying on a cross. From the ETC site:

Last Friday Gunnar Samuelsson successfylly defended his thesis “Crucifixion in Antiquity: An Inquiry into the Background of the New Testament Terminology of Crucifixion” at Gothenburg University (supervisor Samuel Byrskog).

Abstract

This study investigates the philological aspects of how ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic texts, including the New Testament, depict the practice of punishment by crucifixion. A survey of the ancient text material shows that there has been a too narrow view of the “crucifixion” terminology. The various terms are not simply used in the sense of “crucify” and “cross,” if by “crucifixion” one means the punishment that Jesus was subjected to according to the main Christian traditions. The terminology is used much more diversely. Almost none of it can be elucidated beyond verbs referring vaguely to some form(s) of suspension, and nouns referring to tools used in such suspension. As a result, most of the crucifixion accounts that scholars cite in the ancient literature have to be rejected, leaving only a few. The New Testament is not spared from this terminological ambiguity. The accounts of the death of Jesus are strikingly sparse. Their chief contribution is usage of the unclear terminology in question. Over-interpretation, and probably even pure imagination, have afflicted nearly every wordbook and dictionary that deals with the terms related to crucifixion as well as scholarly depictions of what happened on Calvary. The immense knowledge of the punishment of crucifixion in general, and the execution of Jesus in particular, cannot be supported by the studied texts.

The same blog site offers contact details for purchasing the dissertation, and additional notes from its concluding chapter. There is also a discussion of the archaeological evidence.

 

The Fredriksen Fallacy

1243065_131007094825_Jesusof_001The title of this post is a lazy one. In fact, Paula Fredriksen is only one of many biblical historians who are guilty of this fallacy in their historical reconstructions of Jesus. I am merely using one detail from her book, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, to illustrate a basic methodological error that is so deeply ingrained in historical Jesus studies that I suspect some will have difficulty grasping what I am talking about.

Fredriksen begins by declaring that historical Jesus studies begin with one indisputable “fact” – that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, and crucifixion was a punishment usually reserved for political insurrectionists. She then links this to a “second incontrovertible fact” (p.9), that Jesus’ followers, his disciples, were not executed.

Fredriksen sees her task as an historian to explain this paradox: why a leader would be executed as an insurrectionist threat, while his followers were ignored. Fredriksen also believes that one of the “trajectories” that must be explained in this context, is the fact that the same followers began the movement that became Christianity soon afterwards. There is more to Fredriksen’s argument, but I am highlighting these aspects of it for the purpose of demonstrating a basic methodological flaw that no historian should commit.

What Fredriksen has apparently overlooked before commencing her work is:

  1. the external evidence for the date her main sources, the canonical gospels, were extant
  2. the politico-religious matrix in which the canonical gospels made their earliest appearance

If the gospels were composed before the second century, it appears we are left with little reason to think that they found a receptive audience until well into the second century. Many scholars seem convinced that Justin Martyr knew of the canonical gospels and referred to them as Memoirs of the Apostles. For the sake of argument I am willing to accept this proposition. I acknowledge this belief has some excellent support in the evidence. Justin’s successor, Tatian, certainly knew of these gospels and composed a harmony of them.

But what should be of significance to any historian who is assessing the nature of their source documents, in this case the canonical gospels, is the intellectual environment in which they make their first appearance. We know Justin was a propagandist, like most of the other “Fathers” of his century, and that one of his keen interests was to justify his theological views, or the views of the Christianity he represented, by tracing its roots back to Jesus through the twelve apostles.

Genealogies were a political tool used to justify the pedigree of one’s own position, and to demonstrate the error of one’s opponents.

Justin proclaimed that the Christian movement or philosophy he represented was sound because it could be traced back to twelve apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’ mission, and his resurrection from the dead. (He apparently knows nothing of any Judas to confuse things, so whenever he speaks of the twelve, he indicates that the same ones who went out through the world preaching the gospel were the same as who were with Jesus during his mission on earth.)

These twelve disciples make their first appearance in the evidence as tools or foils to prove the truth of the Christian message being taught by Justin. They serve an ideological or narrative function.

And that is how the disciples appear in the canonical gospels, too. They serve as dramatic foils in the first part of the synoptic gospel narrative to make Jesus look all the more insightful and righteous beside their own ignorance and cowardice. They are always there to ask the right question, or perform the right act, to bring the right answer needed for the edification of the gospel reader.

They are also there to demonstrate or witness the “fact” of the resurrection. In John’s gospel, we can be excused for thinking that the original author of that gospel only thought of 7 disciples. The few bland and disconnected notes of their being twelve could be later redactions.

So from the very first times we see reference to the disciples of Jesus, they are always there to perfectly fulfill a dramatic, narrative or theological function.

Now it could well be that in real life, in real history, this is what the disciples did really do. And it could be a fact that the only details that survive about the disciples from this time just happen to be those that do serve these most functional purposes.

But then again, one has to wonder. Paula Fredriksen rejects the historicity of the Temple Action (“cleansing of the temple”) by Jesus, and part of her reason is that its details fit too neatly into the dramatic plot structure of the gospels.

Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention. (p. 210)

If all the details of the temple action fits the plot so perfectly, then I suggest the same can be said for all the details about the disciples we read in the synoptic gospels.

Fredriksen’s fallacy is not in accepting the disciples as historical, but in accepting them as historical persons without clearly addressing her rationales for doing so. And part of that rationale needs to address the fact that every detail we read about the disciples serves a narrative or theological function. Why not presume, therefore, that they have been created for these purposes?

Historians often reject the historicity of a particular detail in a narrative, such as a miracle, or a fulfilled prophecy, if they can see that its inclusion is tendentious for the sake of a particular doctrine or narrative function. Why not apply the same logic to the disciples themselves?

When one reads history or biographical details of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, one encounters many details and characters that do not necessarily fulfill any plot requirement or serve any political or propaganda interest. We have, therefore, plausible grounds for accepting the probability of the existence of these people. Of course, sometimes additional and seemingly incidental details are created by fiction writers to create an air of verisimilitude. But when we are dealing with writings about which we have corroborating primary evidence, we can feel confident we are in the realm of reading something more or less close to “real history”.

I wish I had time to illustrate the particular points I have made with direct quotations from Justin and the gospels to support the argument I have made. Unfortunately, time constraints just don’t allow that at the moment. So maybe this post can serve as an outline draft for a more complete one some time in the future. Meanwhile, reference to Justin’s statements about the disciples can be found at my vridar.info site.

Evidence for the UNhistorical “fact” of Jesus’ death

Naked Chocolate Jesus
Image by Chuckumentary via Flickr

The evidence historians use to assert that Jesus’ crucifixion is a historical fact does not match the evidence for the death of Socrates. Normal guidelines for secular historians that are used in their approach to sources are very rarely followed by biblical (in particular historical Jesus and early Christianity) historians.

Paula Fredriksen, in her Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, speaks of “facts”.

We have facts. Facts about Jesus, and facts about the movement that formed after his crucifixion. Facts are always subject to interpretation — that’s part of the fun — but they also exist as fixed points in our investigation.  .  .  .

So let’s put our facts up front in order to begin our search here. What do we know about Jesus of Nazareth, and how do these facts enable us to start out on the road to a solid and plausible historical portrait of him?The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for Roman insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion. (pp.7-8)

I wish I could quote what she says about the evidence for these facts but this is left implicit. This is a shame, because the evidence itself is worth serious discussion and analysis in order to establish its nature and value to the historian. Surprisingly in the light of her very strong assertions of the existence of “facts” about Jesus, Fredriksen at no point explains how we can know or believe that these really are the “facts”. She does not explicitly explain to readers the evidence for what she insists so strongly is “the single most solid fact about Jesus’ life”.

Genuine historical method exposes the fallacies of biblical “historians”

I will show in this post that a justifiable historical approach to sources and evidence leaves the historian with NO evidence for Jesus’ death as a fact of history. Only by lazy assumptions about their sources can biblical “historians” declare Jesus’ crucifixion a “fact of history”.

Biblical “historians” actually begin with theological claims and tales of the supernatural and miraculous that have absolutely no historical value, and proceed to infer that these fancies arose from interpretations of a real historical event, and on this basis assert that the “fact” is truly historical. (Supposed testimony from Josephus and Tacitus can be shown to be an afterthought.)

In other words, Paula Fredriksen is but one of a host of biblical “historians” who “do history” according to the  analogy of the silly detectives in my earlier post.

read more »

Recognizing the Triumphant Conqueror in Mark’s crucifixion scene

Continuing from Reasons, 3 . . .

This post owes almost all of its details to T. E. Schmidt’s Jesus’ Triumphal March to Crucifixion. So if you’ve read that there is no need to read this. I have a few additional points here, but nothing substantial. I only attempt a slightly different perspective, that’s all.

Firstly, I am going to try to avoid using the word “irony” in connection with Mark’s narrative here, since I have recently been alerted to the fact that the literary use of irony is a relative latecomer in the history of literature, and that what authors of Mark’s era were taught and practiced was the good old Aristotelian gradually unfolding “recognition” scenes. These were the stuff of ancient Hellenistic creative literature.

Paul makes the analogy between Christ and the Roman Triumphator plain and direct in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

The Triumphators’ followers were saved, and some of his prisoners were sent off for execution.

The conquering general or emperor was hailed as the epiphany of God. Initially he was the god Dionysus, but later was identified with Zeus. The crowds who came to see this event would repeatedly cry out “Triumpe”, a call for the god to make himself manifest.

The Roman Triumphal March

Mark 15:16

Then the soldiers led him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison.

The Praetorium was, in Rome, the common designation for the place and personnel of the imperial guard. It was the imperial guard who made and unmade emperors. (It could also refer to a military HQ in general, but throughout this post I am going to be assuming Mark was written in Rome for a Roman audience.)

The soldiers call for the whole cohort of 200 men minimum. It is unimaginable to think of 200 soldiers being called out to make fun of one man. It appears that Mark is signalling to his readers that Jesus about to embark of a triumphal procession as a sign of his power over all his enemies, and he is doing this by bringing in the props that were used for a Roman emperor’s procession.

Mark 15:17

And they clothed him with purple, and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on his head,

The Roman emperor wore purple. It was a colour forbidden to lower ranks. Schmidt remarks that in Jerusalem the only purple cloak available for this mockery of Christ would have been Pilate’s, and Pilate is hardly likely to have lent his out for this occasion to be spat on.

Mark instead is signalling to his readers in the know that Jesus is the true imperial conqueror, in particular at this very moment.

The Roman triumphator would be clothed in purple, wear a crown of laurel, and hold a staff in his right hand. Another anomaly here is the notion that there would be right nearby a handy clutch of thorn branches for soldiers to make an impromptu crown. The details are signalling to the reader that this moment of humiliation is in fact the moment of Jesus’ Triumph over his enemies.

Mark 15:18

and began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Before embarking on the triumphal procession the Roman conqueror would stand before his soldiers to receive their adulation. Again, this is the author’s way of adding more detail to verify the truly conquering identity of Jesus, though this is obviously hidden from the actors in the narrative.

Mark 15:20

And when they mocked him . . .

This point is not discussed by Schmidt, but I think it is a significant detail nonetheless. Roman triumphators, even though appearing as a god, would be accompanied in by those whose task it was to mock, ridicule and insult them in their ears — in order to remind them, we are informed, that they were but men. To keep them humble.

Mark 15: 21

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross.

The triumphal procession included the sacrificial animal being led by its executioners carrying the double-bladed axe, the instrument of their execution.

Not mentioned by Schmidt, and a detail that is testified (in a historical novel by Heliodorius) a good century after this narrative was written, is that these butchers or executioners of the triumphal sacrifice were taken from the countryside. That was their “craft”, after all — butchering their animals for sale.

Again not mentioned by Schmidt, but I can’t help but wonder about the names Alexander and Rufus in this context. Who was Alexander but the archetypical Greek conqueror, and who is Rufus (meaning Red) but the Roman conqueror in such a procession whose face was painted red in imitation of Zeus for this march. And Simon a Cyrenian, is, of course, the namesake of the Simon who failed Jesus at this moment. Instead of taking up his own cross and following Jesus, he is assisting with the execution of Jesus.

Mark 15:22

And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of the Skull/Head.

Schmidt explains that a more accurate translation is Head rather than Skull. Citing Schmidt, here:

Mark may be offering this translation simply to heighten the sense of the macabre. But there is a remarkable coincidence in the name of the place that may constitute another allusion to the triumph. Dionysius of Halicarnassus records the legend that, during the laying of a foundation for a temple on a certain Roman hill, a human head was discovered with its features intact. Soothsayers proclaimed:

“Romans, tell your fellow citizens it is ordered by fate that the place in which you found the head shall be the head of all Italy,” (and) since that time the place is called the Capitoline hill from the head that was found there; for the Romans call heads capita.

The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, or more simply the Capitolium, was the terminus of every Roman triumph. The procession would wind through the streets to the Forum, culminating in the ascent of the triumphator to the place of sacrifice—the place named after a death’s-head. The name “Golgotha” (head) may simply be a linguistic and historical coincidence, but to an audience prepared by the context of Mark’s gospel to look for double meanings, it would be a glaring and meaningful coincidence: Golgotha was the Capitolium (head) to which the triumphator ascended.

I used to disagree with Michael Turton’s suggestion that Mark’s gospel was indicating that Jesus was crucified in or at the Temple. I am not so sure I should disagree any longer. If Mark was writing for a Roman audience, and this is often suggested by scholars, then he gives no reason to think that his readers would picture any scene other than Jesus being crucified at the Jerusalem temple. It is worth recalling that some early Christian texts (e.g. the last part of the Ascension of Isaiah and the Book of Revelation) did indeed say that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.

I know the suggestion seems crazy, but surely that is only because of our familiarity with all the paintings of the crucifixion scene — AND because of our convictions that there is an historical basis to this fabulous story. (It would also make a little more sense of the remark that “someone noticed” that the temple veil was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death.)

Mark 15:23-24

Then they gave him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but he did not take it. And when they crucified him. . .

Expensive wine is offered at the moment he is to be sacrificed, but he does not take it. Roman readers familiar with the Roman triumphal procession knew that at the moment of the sacrifice of the bull the emperor was offered wine, which he poured out on the bull itself. The bull was the god dying and the emperor was the god living at this moment of the pouring out of the wine.

Mark 15:27

And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and the other on his left.

Roman readers would have recognized this from triumphal processions also — as in the following examples of Triumphs:

  1. Tiberius took his seat beside Augustus between two consuls
  2. Claudius in his triumph with his sons-in-law supporting him on either side
  3. Vitellius placed his conquering generals, Valens and Caecina, on either side of him
  4. Vespasian rode with his son Titus on one side in his chariot and with his other son, Domition, riding on his other side

Historical or rhetorical?

It ought to be obvious that the original author was not interested in narrating history. Historical reconstruction is not on his agenda. The whole structure is composed of implausibilities and oddities (the fact of the crucifixion itself with Pilate releasing a rebel and crucifying Jesus just to please a crowd, the crown of thorns, cloak of purple, 200 soldiers called out for one man, offering a very expensive wine — not a pain killer — with myrrh; and more is to follow, with noon turning to dark, etc.) that serve to inform insider readers that Jesus was, at this moment of humiliation, undertaking his conquering procession.

And this, note, is the first narrative of the crucifixion after Paul’s many references to it as a theological (only) event.

Reasons to question historicity of crucifixion, 3

I began this series with

  1. Reasons to question . . .
  2. Grounds to question . . .

Historicity of the crucifixion cannot be in doubt simply because Paul writes of the crucifixion as a theological event. But when the theological meanings attributed to the crucifixion defy historical realities, then we are entitled to question the historicity of the event. In my last post on this I presented this fact in relation to Paul’s first letter to Corinth: a historical crucifixion simply does not sit with mere ‘foolishness’ to Greeks nor ‘unimpressive weakness’ for the Jews. See the previous post (Grounds, above) for details.

Nor am I arguing that these factors disprove the historicity of the crucifixion. Of course they don’t. But in the absence of any historical context in these earliest references to the crucifixion, and in the presence of mystical and angelic direct involvement in the event, then it is simply not honest with the evidence to claim that the crucifixion is “a bedrock fact of history”.

Moving on to Romans.

Paul begins his discussion of the death of Jesus here by pairing it with the sin of Adam (Romans 5).

In the next chapter Paul teaches that the Christian’s “old man” is crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). Again, the crucifixion of Christ is portrayed as an everpresent reality with which humanity within the earthly sphere can continue to relate.

In Romans 7 Paul argues that the mere fact of the body is a form of death, because it is enslaved to sin. Similarly in Romans 8, it is death to have the mind of the flesh. The hope of Christians is some form of mystical identification with an everpresent reality of a crucified and resurrected Christ.

The same can be shown for other letters of Paul, or those attributed to him. (That is, we are omitting the Pastorals which, I believe, have sufficient reasons for most scholars to question their authenticity as from Paul’s hand.) I’ll avoid here the repetition of all of these. The facts are in everyone’s Bibles to read for themselves.

The first crucifixion narrative — the Gospel of Mark

Many modern texts place the Gospel of Mark twenty to ten years after the letters of Paul. There are several significant points to note about this narrative when we are evaluating its value as a source for an historical event underlying the narrative.

  1. Mark’s account contains reasons to believe it was written as fictional recognition scene — that is, if followed the common novelistic style of playing winks with his readers who pick up his clues about the identity of Jesus at this crucial moment, while at the same time composing a narrative in which the actors remain dim-witted. In other words, the author’s interest is rhetorical, not historical.
  2. Early accounts also suggest the crucifixion story was driven by a need to find a fulfilment of a particular OT scripture regarding the Son of Man, and to preach variant theologies.
  3. The narratives surrounding the crucifixion are riddled with historical implausibilities and inaccuracies.
  4. Subsequent noncanonical literature flatly contradicted some of the core details of Mark’s account, and some appeared to deny a crucifixion at all.
  5. Subsequent theological debates were about the theological meaning of the crucifixion, with no interest in its historicity, or using historical data to support their theological arguments.
  6. All subsequent nonChristian references to the crucifixion as an historical event add nothing more than what was believed among proto-orthodox or orthodox Christians, and appear to have been unknown until some centuries after they were supposedly first penned.
  7. One, possibly two, earliest nonChristian (Roman) references to Christianity make no reference to a crucifixion, even though they had every reason to bring up as much hostile detail as possible.

I’ll start with #1 first — in the next post.

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“When Jesus went out with a loud voice” revisited – – – wikipedia footnote

I earlier blogged about the “last shout” of Jesus before he left this world (When Jesus went out with a loud voice . . .) and one reader responded by saying that the shout itself was a miracle that proved the divine power of Jesus, at least to the nearby centurion. The argument is that at the point of final asphyxiation a loud shout would normally be impossible.

I personally think such a “miracle”, if that were the case, is quite anticlimactic in comparison with the sun turning black at the time of a full moon and a bodily resurre

ction, unless, perhaps for a physician. But since then, while reading for another blog post, I came across the following in the Wikipedia entry on Crucifixion:

Justus Lipsius: De cruce, p.

Experiments by Frederick Zugibe have, however, revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death.

“Christ crucified” — Was Paul’s message really anti-imperialist as Borg and Crossan assert?

In a recent post I mentioned a new publication, The First Paul, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I said it contained some interesting bits, but also some bits that one might suspect are arguably on the dubious side of method and logic. I discussed a positive for my first post, now for a negative.

In the first-century setting of Paul and his hearers, “Christ crucified” had an anti-imperial meaning. Paul’s shorthand summary was not “Jesus died,” not “Jesus was killed,” but “Christ crucified. This meant that Jesus had been crucified by imperial authority . . . . In Paul’s world, a cross was always a Roman cross.

Rome reserved crucifixion for two categories of people: those who challenged imperial rule . . . and chronically defiant slaves . . . The two groups who were crucified had something in common: both rejected Roman imperial domination. Crucifixion . . . carried the message, “Don’t you dare defy imperial authority, or this will happen to you.

To proclaim “Christ crucified” was to signal at once that Jesus was an anti-imperial figure, and that Paul’s gospel was an anti-imperial gospel. The empire killed Jesus. The cross was the imperial “no” to Jesus. But God raised him. The resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus, God’s vindication of Jesus — and thus also God’s “no” to the powers that had killed him. (p. 131-2)

I admit I have much more to read on this topic, including a few books in my personal library like the twelve year old Paul and Empire by Richard Horsley which I am embarrassed to confess I still have only half read. So the argument of this post is restricted solely to the discussion as found in Borg and Crossan’s new popular book.

I have been recently blogging about the ostensibly pre-gospel passages about the crucifixion of Jesus (latest post here), arguing that this foundational event is entitled to be questioned as to its historical status, widespread opinion among biblical scholars notwithstanding. My conclusions differ radically from Borg’s and Crossan’s as cited above. So time to address their claims:

Paul’s shorthand was not “Jesus died” . . . Really?

Yes, “crucified” is the term used in chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Corinthians. But this is scarcely enough to persuade anyone familiar with Paul’s letters as a whole to think that for Paul the central act of the gospel embedded an intrinsically anti-imperialist message. In fact, it seems B’s and C’s claim here is based entirely on two chapters in but one of Paul’s several letters.

1 Corinthians

By the end of the letter it seems Paul decided to tone down this supposedly “anti-imperialistic” rhetoric and let the Jesus followers off the hook by reminding them that they were acting out Jesus’ death only in their ritual meals, not his crucifixion:

11: 26 . . . you do show the Lord’s death till he come.

2 Corinthians

In chapter 5 Paul writes three times that “Jesus died” without a hint of “anti-imperialist” crucifixion.

5:14 . . . if one died for all . . .

5:15a . . . he died for all . . .

5:15b . . . him who died for them . . .

Galatians

1:1 . . . who raised him from the dead . . . [darn it! Paul just missed an excellent opportunity to drive home his anti-imperialist gospel by pronouncing God’s Yes to Jesus and No to Empire: why did he not think to write, “who raised him from the crucifixion!”? What happened to God’s “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the imperial power that crucified him?]

2:20 . . . I am crucified with Christ . . . [Gosh! So Paul deserved those floggings in Acts, and he really was justifiably executed as an anti-imperialist rebel in the end?]

2:21 . . . if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain . . .

3:1 . . . Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you . . . [Why did governor Pliny not pick up on such anti-imperialist sentiment when he asked Trajan how to handle the Christians?]

5:11 . . . if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. . . . [Whoah a minute here! Does Paul really mean that the anti-imperialist message of the cross can be nullified by preaching circumcision??? Yet that is what acceptance of Borg’s and Crossan’s assertion would lead to! Ditto for 6:12.]

5:24 . . . And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. . . . [So drunkenness and fornication are sending anti-imperialistic messages?]

6:12 . . . they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. [See 5:11 above.]

6:14 . . . But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. [This passage simply makes nonsense any attempt to read into the crucifixion an anti-imperialist message.]

Romans

Maybe it was because he was writing a letter to Christians in the imperial centre of empire, but Paul makes but one solitary reference in this letter to Jesus being crucified. But hold on, the fact that he was writing to Rome should not decide the matter in this case, because in the same letter he actually says that Christians are to see themselves as subject to a daily “crucifixion with Christ”. Is he really writing to devotees living in the shadows of the imperial palace to acknowledge that they are “anti-imperialists” by their daily conduct? See 6:6 below:

5:6 . . . Christ died for the ungodly

5:8 . . . Christ died for us

5:10 . . . the death of his Son . . .

6:6 . . . our old man is crucified with him . . .

14: 9 . . . Christ both died, and rose . . .

14:15 . . . for whom Christ died

1 Thessalonians

4:14: . . . Jesus died and rose again . . .

5:9-10 . . . our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us . . .

Philippians

2:8 . . . even the death of the cross

3:10 . . . being made conformable to his death . . .

3:18 . . . enemies of the cross of Christ . . .

If “Christ crucified” were Paul’s shorthand for his gospel in order to stress its anti-imperialistic message, it appears from the above citations that this was a point he did not wish to emphasize very often, and even sometimes a wording he wanted to infuse with an alternative meaning, probably just to throw the secret police off the scent! 🙂

Did Imperial Rome really hold the crucifixion patent at the time of Paul?

The answer to this question depends on our starting assumptions. If we assume before commencing our enquiries that the Jesus story and Paul’s mission as per the Book of Acts are truly based heavily on historical accounts, then the answer will be “Yes”. Paul according to this assumption knew only Roman rule and that only Roman rulers administered crucifixion.

But if we attempt to put ourselves into the minds of first century moderately informed people, then we will know we have to allow for the idea of crucifixion having many provenances. Popular “novels” of the era not uncommonly include a dramatic crucifixion scene as part of the adventurous plot, including:

In the influential philosophical treatise, Timaeus, Plato describes the gateway between the corruptible realm where our earth resides and the incorruptible divine realm as a cross, in reference to where the celestial equator and ecliptic intersect.

Neighbouring peoples such as the Persians and Seleucids had carried out crucifixions. I cannot know if Rome’s neighbours at the time of Paul did, but crucifixion was not unique to Rome. Jews, in particular, would have held a cultural memory of how one of their kings, Alexander Jannaeus, had crucified 800 Pharisees. Josephus records this for us.

Paul speaks of “princes of this world” as crucifying Jesus, suggesting that it was not Rome but some other powers (compare the information we glean from Daniel) responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

A near Jewish contemporary of Paul and Jesus was Philo who also wrote about the crucifixion in ways surprisingly similar to Paul’s usage — allegorically, although not with any hint of anti-imperialist connotations.

Where is Philo?

Philo

So often I see Philo referred to in scholarly studies of biblical matters in order to clarify the intellectual context of the times. Curiously he has been overlooked by B and C. Here is Philo’s paragraph 61 from section XVII of On the Posterity of Cain and his Exile:

(61) Now the soul that subjects itself to bodily compunctions has the beforementioned inhabitants. Acheman, being interpreted, means, my brother, and Jesein means “outside of me,” and Thalmein means, some one in suspense; for it follows of necessity, that the body must be thought akin to the souls that love the body, and that external good things must be exceedingly admired by them, and all the souls which have this kind of disposition depend on dead things, and, like persons who are crucified, are attached to corruptible matter till the day of their death. (62) But the soul that is united to virtue has for its inhabitants those persons who are preeminent for virtue, persons whom the double cavern has received in pairs, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeckah, Leah and Jacob, virtues and those who possess them; Chebron itself keeping the treasure-house of the memorials of knowledge and wisdom, which is more ancient than Janis and the whole land of Egypt, for nature has made the soul more ancient than the body, that is than Egypt, and virtue more ancient than vice, that is than Janis (and the name Janis, being interpreted, means the command of answer), estimating seniority rather by dignity than by length of time.

A discussion of Philo’s allegorical use of the crucifixion image can be found on pages 186-7 of David Chapman’s Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion available on Google Books. If this Jew living under the same Roman imperial power as Paul did not associate “crucifixion” with imperialist or anti-imperialist sentiments, why should we think that Paul was compelled to do so?

Back to Borg’s and Crossan’s context of 2 Corinthians

After noting all these other passages above from the widely accepted genuine Pauline corpus, it is tempting to have a second look at the context of those passages B and C use to argue their case for an anti-imperialist message in the crucifixion.

1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness

If Paul were writing at a time of various seditions and troubles preceding the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion against Rome, how plausible is it, really, to suggest that Jews found an anti-imperialist gospel an offence of some sort? One would think from Josephus’s account of the various anti-Roman movements in the lead-up to the war that such a gospel would have been enthusiastically endorsed by a vast bulk of the Jews.

2:8 . . . [the princes of this world] would not have crucified the Lord of glory [Compare Daniel chapters 10 and 12 which reveal that there are divine or angelic Princes of Persia, Greece and Israel]

I am reminded of the claim of Jesus before Pilate in the Gospel of John 19:10-11

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Paul clearly could not have had anything like the “tradition” that reached the author of the Gospel of John, since Paul speaks explicitly of plural princes of the world crucifying Jesus while the gospel has one human governer under the power of God alone or a single agent of God. More likely Paul had access to a narrative or treatise or group-think that could be traced back to Psalms 2: 2

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed. . .

(The author of the Gospel of Pilate may well have used this verse too when in the surviving opener of the manuscript he appears to have pictured Herod and Pilate sitting together at the judgement of Christ.)

Long time anti-imperialist bias

11 08_6972 John Dominic Crossan
Image by Lynceus via Flickr

Crossan’s earlier work, The Historical Jesus (and its popular format, Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography), was often criticized for letting show his Irish Catholic anti-

British-imperialist heritage. Methinks nothing has changed in that respect, and just as Crossan’s Jesus happened to preach Crossan’s politics, so Crossan’s Paul preaches Crossan’s politics as his gospel! How else to explain such a powerful assertion about a political message underpinning the phrase “Christ crucified” on the basis of so few citations and in defiance of so many more?

Methinks there is a stronger case for a non-historical origin for Paul’s use of the crucifixion image, but that’s another story.

But there’s more (maybe later)

I had intended the above point to have been covered in 6 lines when I started, and to follow up with B’s and C’s use of Acts and pitiful 20th century social analogies to justify their additional claims about the meaning of Paul’s message of both crucifixion and resurrection. But I’ve run out of beer and need to take a break.

The Medieval Origins of the “Christ paid the penalty for us” Gospel.

I was about to start the next post in my series attempting to justify seriously questioning the “bedrock fact” status of the crucifixion of Jesus when I came across a new publication by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Paul : Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon.

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There are some interesting enlightening details in it, and, (sorry to say, but Borg and Crossan are big enough to take and deserve it) some incredible howlers of both method and

conclusions that I would never have expected in a work by scholars of such high repute. Maybe this is because they were leaning more to accessing a popular reading public than the scholarly guild with this one. I am reminded of earlier posts where I have expressed some disgust against scholars who know better yet see fit to short change their popular readership like this. For my most recent protest, see my remarks on Pagels and King in A Spectrum of Jesus Mythicists and Mythers. I’ll address one of these lower high school level howlers in a future post. But first, something good and interesting from the book. (Anyway, I guess that’s one of the reasons for my blog — to attempt to make a bit more accessible some of the thinking of scholars on these sorts of topics.)

On page 127 they write:

For many centuries, the death of Jesus has been understood by most Christians as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, as a substitutionary atonement, as this theological understanding is called.

This way of seeing the death of Jesus is very familiar. Most Christians today, and most non-Christians who have heard anything about Christianity, think that the cross means, in slight variations:

Jesus died for our sins.

Jesus is the sacrifice for sin.

Jesus died in our place.

Jesus is the payment for sin.

For this understanding, the notions of punishment, substitution, and payment are central. We deserve to be punished by God for our sins, but Jesus was the substitute who paide the price. The issue is how we may be forgiven by God for our sin and guilt.

Then follows what must be a bombshell for most fundamentalists in particular:

But this understanding is less than a thousand years old. (p.128)

So where did it come from?

Borg and Crossan answer: It came from a theological treatise, Cur Deus Homo? = Why Did God Become Human? by Anselm of Canterbury, first published in 1097.

 Anselm of Canterbury

This is Anselm’s argument:

  1. All people have disobeyed God. So all people are sinners.
  2. Someone has to pay for our sin. Forgiveness means that compensation must be made for the offence or crime. If no payment was required for sin, then it would imply God does not think is anything very important.
  3. Since God is infinite, our debt to him is also infinite. But we are finite, so are incapable of paying the price owed.
  4. Jesus is infinite, and when he became human he could pay the full cost of the penalty for us as a substitute sacrifice. So we can be forgiven.

And this has been the understanding of Christianity in general ever since! Well, I never knew that! Just Kipling Just So story, only it’s probably true! 😉

Mel Gibson and his “patron pope”, John-Paul II who apparently loved his The Passion of the Christ movie, have both preached the same Anselm Cur Deus Homo? doctrine.