BRUNO BAUER — Six Works Translated into English

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

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






§ 84. The anointing of Jesus in Bethany

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

by Neil Godfrey


§ 84.

The anointing of Jesus in Bethany.

1. The report of John.

C. 12, 1-8.

Six days before the Passover, after the priests had decided on his death and he himself had eluded their persecution for some time, Jesus came to Bethany.

Every reader will now know the relationship of Jesus to this place: why does the evangelist mention this place: “where Lazarus, the one who had died and whom he had raised from the dead, was”? This miracle chat was reported just now: why this laboriously elaborated, this anxiously turned note? We see from this nothing more than that the author first laboriously works into the situations, not to say that he only laboriously works them out at the moment of writing and cannot yet put the individual features into their correct harmony, or not to say that he uses a report which simply names Bethany, and that he now extremely anxiously blacks out the relation to Lazarus in this report.

V. 2 says vaguely: “A banquet was held there in his honor. But if it goes on to say: “Martha was waiting”, it seems that the banquet was organized by her, and therefore also by Lazarus, i.e. in the house of this family. Nevertheless, it says again vaguely: ,, Lazarus was one of those who were at table with him. ” So Lazarus is one of the guests – that is clear if one still gives language permission to be language – Jesus is in the house of a stranger and yet Martha is waiting!


Mary takes a pound of precious ointment, anoints the feet of Jesus and dries them with her hair. What does that mean? Does one wipe off the ointment with which one has rubbed the limbs of another on the spot? And now even with the hair? This touching trait of extreme self-denial, of heroic devotion, how does it come here? Is it motivated? No!

A new example of how clumsily and fearfully the author introduces the situations! One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the son of Simeon, who was to betray him,” says v. 4. “But do the readers not know Judas? Do they not already know from C. 6, 71 that Judas was this very future betrayer? The author has again very anxiously imposed this note on a foreign report.

Judas now remarks whether this ointment could not be sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to the poor. At the same time, the author gives the note, which has given rise to the most important and interesting remarks, treatises, thoughts, characteristics and a thousand useful things for the theologians, that Judas did not think of the poor, but was a thief, for he carried – a new instructive note, which in turn gave rise to many wonderful remarks – the common treasury of the followers. Thousands of essays, treatises, comments and books have also been written about how Jesus, with his omniscience, could have entrusted the treasury to Judas and thus tempted him. We will immediately relieve the theologians of the trouble of continuing to rack their brains over this highly important matter, and we will give the sensible ones a fully valid dispensation that will legally absolve them from the obligation to study this theological-criminalistic literature.


“Let her,” replies Jesus, “she has saved the ointment for the day of my burial. “But is it now, as Jesus sits at table, “the day of his burial”? The symbolism of the action, the bold anticipation inherent in Mary’s action, is not clearly expressed!

And how true it is that only after Mary’s action has been interpreted does it continue with “for” – namely, with reference to the words “let her! “- it continues: “for you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me! It is not true at all!

Finally, if the evangelist knows that Judas made this objection for selfish reasons, and not for the sake of the poor, he will also trust his Lord, the heart’s rescuer, to have known of Judas’ motive. But does Jesus in the least acknowledge this in his reply? Are these words intended to reject such a wicked hypocrite and egoist? Is this a dismissal of the shameful egoist, when he is confidently referred to the future, in which he would still have time to show his well-meaning disposition to the poor? Is not this speech comforting, and spoken with a good faith in the sincerity of the objection, or at least in such a way that it is thought possible that the man who expressed that misgiving would and could then take care of the poor? In short, the speech does not fit the premises of the report, i.e. it has come to the author from outside and, apart from that unfortunate mistake, he has only placed it so inappropriately because he has brought a feature into the narrative from his own resources which was alien to the original whole. After introducing the contrast between the pious liberality of the woman and the devilish Judas, he kept the speech of Jesus, which belonged to a different context, essentially unchanged.


2. The report of Matthew.

C. 26, 6-13.

Matthew and Mark also place the account of the anointing in Bethany immediately after the note that the priesthood had decided on the death of Jesus, but indicate that the event took place – not six, but at the earliest – two days before the feast.

According to both, however, the scene also took place in Bethany, but in the house of a certain Simon, who was called the leper. Both do not mention the name of the anointing woman, although if they had known it, they would have told us, since Jesus, according to their account, closes the defence of the woman with the words: Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in her memory. “

In some points, however, Matthew differs from Mark. He says: the woman “came to him”, but we do not know what should have been said, whether she was already in the house before. Afterwards it is assumed (v. 7) that Jesus was at the table, but it was not stated that he was given a banquet. Now listen to Mark! He first gives the situation that Jesus was at the table, and then he says: “there came a woman with a little bottle of balm. “

Furthermore, according to Matthew, it is the disciples who became indignant about this waste of the precious balm and remarked that the proceeds of the sale could be distributed to the poor. It is incomprehensible how all the disciples suddenly had the same feeling, how they all fell for the same thought, how they could be so envious of their Lord and master, especially since they could not otherwise prove that they were capable of such an attitude towards him. In Jesus’ answer, however, there is no hint at all that he turns against his disciples and has to defend the love of that woman against them. If the disciples had acted so conspicuously against him, Jesus would have had to take this peculiar incident into consideration. The speech therefore originally had a different purpose.


It is also inappropriate and inexplicable that Jesus says: that she poured this ointment on my body, she did it to bury me. But how? Can there be talk of a real burial now? Matthew has made a mistake, has exaggerated clumsily.

So we would arrive happily at Mark.


3. The report of Mark.

C. 14, 3 – 9.

Everything is in harmony in his report, everything has its measure; situation, action, speech, everything is in the right harmony.

It was not Judas who took offense, it was not the disciples, but “some” of those present, who are to be thought of as those who were not in such close relationship to Jesus as the disciples.

The speech is complete in itself. Jesus does not attack the opponents. The situation has something mild, wistful, soft, since it is supposed to be the pre-celebration of the death and burial of Jesus. Jesus does not speak in sharp irony, but very mildly he says, “you always have the poor with you and, if you want – Matthew has not copied this mild, but for the character of the speech significant addition – you can do them good.

The construction of the speech is also correct. “Let them! What do you do to her complaint! She has done a good work on me! (Here, therefore, her work is not yet completely interpreted, the attention to it is not yet exclusively focused, so it can be continued with respect to the “Let her!”:) for you always have the poor with you, (Matthew has also already destroyed the rhythm, when he does not copy “let her” and also cincludes the words: “she has done a good work for me” with a “because”, so that two sentences one after the other begin with “because”,) but not me. “


Finally, Jesus says in Mark (when he now speaks directly about the woman’s act to interpret it): “She has done what she could (very beautiful, but omitted by Matthew), she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.”

Even if unconsciously to her, but following the divine impulse of love – that is what the words are supposed to mean – the woman has done the honor to my body for the event, which will now soon – (in two days) – occur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The meaning of these words becomes even clearer and more important when we remember that according to the writing of Mark the body of Jesus could not be anointed and embalmed, because it was too late on the day of the crucifixion and burial and the women, who C. 16, 1 went to the tomb of Jesus after the Sabbath with the specimens to embalm him, found the tomb empty and received the message from the angel that their Lord had risen. Matthew does not emphasize this circumstance, does not attribute this note to Mark, because he did not notice the inner connection of it with the story of the anointing in Bethany, because he had no eye for this kind of connection in the writing of his predecessor. And now the fourth? He was even more mistaken, he violated the story of the anointing – besides the other violations – even more, when he reports from his own hand that Joseph and the comrade whom he gave to Joseph, Nicodemus, embalmed the body of Jesus when they buried him.

Both Matthew and the Fourth copied their account from Mark. But how then are the differences to be explained, by which all these reports differ significantly from one another?


The matter of Matthew we can briefly settle. Where he differs from Mark, it is either his carelessness in the pure business of writing, or the fact that he had no feeling for some seemingly minor trifles, which is to be given as the reason for the difference. The most striking circumstance, that he lets the disciples appear against the woman, is to be explained purely and solely from the clumsiness, which sometimes tempts him to give a definiteness to the representation, where Mark very correctly and appropriately leaves the matter undefined. (Cf. C. 9, 14. Mark 2, 18).

But John?


4. The origin of the Johannine account.

The dear man of the heart has just copied!

From Mark he has the designation of the ointment as πιστικης – about the meaning of this word the theologians may still argue in the future – but from the treasure of his own sublime imagination he has taken it that the woman – think! – took a pound of ointment to anoint the Lord’s feet. In the end, we would have to explain it from this profusion that Mary was frightened when, instead of anointing the feet of Jesus, she did it in a troublesome way – we do not want to say what – and that therefore she reached for her hair *).

He wrote Mark’s calculation of the value of the ointment, but he wrote it badly, because Mark lets people say that one could pay “more” than three hundred denarii for the ointment if one sold it, he writes very clumsily that one could sell the ointment for three hundred denarii.

*) How do you like this explanation? Is it worse than that of de Wette, who explains the striking circumstance that Mary anointed the feet, not the head, thus: (I, I, 215) “probably Mary could approach the feet rather than the head. And to pour a whole pound of ointment on the head at once would have been unseemly”? I wish that the theologians would at least stop scolding the rabbis. These were worthy, clear philosophers compared to these people who make such profound reflections on a pound of ointment (font tant de bruit).


He omitted the word about the woman’s eternal remembrance because he had already given her a name (Mary) and then brought a new interest into the narrative, which he esteemed, to make the final focus fall once again on the woman or rest on her. He brought the contrast between the woman’s loving effort and the selfishness of the betrayer into the narrative, although not properly or even completely: as soon as the betrayer is dismissed in necessity, the account must come to an end.

But where does Judas come from? First of all from the Fourth’s love of terrible contrasts! Here he wanted to oppose the expression of tender, wistful love with the utmost egoism, and he now opposes it – how clumsy, how tasteless! – a common thief. Mark has kept the right measure when he contrasts the touching extravagance of love with the envy and misgivings of the ordinary adherents of the utilitarian theory.

Earlier, the Fourth Gospel had already quoted the black traitor for the sake of contrast, namely to use his stubbornness as a foil for the love of the Lord and the attachment of the other disciples (John 6:68-71). He borrowed this contrast from the Gospel of Mark, but if Mark only used it once (in the account of the Last Supper) and even then only very appropriately, namely artistically tempered, then the Fourth Gospel has now painted it in glaring colors, as if this contrast were not always, even in the most moderate portrayal, large, terrible, and moving enough, and placed it everywhere, even in very inappropriate places, wherever he found a place for it.

However, this time there was a very special reason that led him to execute Judas here. In the scripture of Mark, immediately after the report of the anointing, there is a note (C. 14, 10) that Judas left to betray Jesus to the high priests. Well, here the fourth one had Judas in front of him, he also reads here that the betrayer was promised money by the priests. He slips it into his report about the anointing, the note about the money makes him make the villain a money man, in order to give him the opportunity to prove his greediness, he makes him immediately the treasurer of the society *) and afterwards – yes afterwards, after his wonderful report about the anointing he omits the note that Judas went to the priests and was promised money, a note that was necessary for the whole gospel.

*Tholuck (comm. p. 229) says, what the holy John C. 12, 4 – 6 reports, is “the only psychological trait from the life of Judas, which enables us to read his soul. Now read what Mr. Tholuck reads out in order to feel justified disgust about this astonishing psychology. No! One does not read it! It is too silly not to mention that it is empty straw threshing. Judas is no longer a treasurer!


Further, the question arises, how he came to set Martha and Mary in motion for the banquet. What a superfluous question! We have already seen how he wove Luke’s note of the two sisters into his story of the raising of Lazarus. He does that again here. As Luke’s Martha resurrects, so does his; as Luke’s Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, so does his prove her devotion to the Lord by anointing his feet.

He moved the sisters by force to Bethany. In Luke, where he first met them, they live in some village and Jesus meets them on his journey before he comes to Judea. The force that the Fourth used in this transfer can be seen very clearly in the hasty intention with which he immediately, as he first writes down the word Bethany in C. 11, 1. 2, assures that this place was the village of Mary and Martha. He wants to impress upon the reader that this village was the well-known village where Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, lived, the village where Mary lived, who, as is known, anointed the feet of the Lord and wiped them with her hair – Yes, yes, he tells the readers, just believe it, it is the same well-known village! the same village!


The name Lazarus he has from the narration of the rich man and Lazarus which he has read with Luke. His Lazarus is a revenant who should bring the people forcefully to the faith.

He transfers Lazarus to Bethany in order to use the miracle that happened to him to bring about the final catastrophe.

But would it really be because he used the elements that Mark and Luke gave him so externally? *) We have proved it and will add new proofs.

*) Strauss (l, 786. 787) not only doubts it, but decides – i.e. in the mist of his mystical tradition hypothesis – for the opposite. He does not find it “advisable to accuse the fourth gospel here of an unhistorical naming. For the relationship of Jesus to the family in Bethany, like the several festive journeys, is a point at which this Gospel in all probability has more precise notes ahead of the others.” The scattered features in the Synoptic Gospels of Jesus’ relationship to Bethany and to Martha and Mary are “just as many signposts pointing to a point of unification according to John’s narrative.” Of course! – thus in a completely different sense! – After John had united these traits in his report.

He holds the thing so uncertainly that we must think at the beginning, when he says, Martha waited for, that the guest meal takes place in the house of Lazarus, and nevertheless we hear immediately on it that Lazarus is only a guest. Why? Because in the original report, with Mark, the anointing woman comes to the banquet, thus is not at home with the host; because the host in the original report is called Simon. Even Luke has left the matter so far unchanged that the host is called Simon: this impressed the beast somewhat and he now presents the matter in such a way that Lazarus is only one of the guests, although we must assume at the beginning that the banquet had been ruined in his house.


Nevertheless, the fourth was so tender and yielding to the name of Simon that he nevertheless mentions it in his report, even though he does not really want to put it into words about the fact that the innkeeper was a stranger. Isn’t a Simon also mentioned here? Namely as the father of Judas. The fourth was the first to give this name to the traitor’s father, and in order to convince the reader quite definitely on this important point, he calls Judas the son of Simon almost everywhere he thinks of him.

One still insists on us: how? The Fourth would have had before his eyes and used Luke’s account of the anointing? Isn’t it a completely different story?

As for the first, the answer is absolutely yes!

We remember the inconvenience of Mary anointing “the feet of Jesus” and – what cobbled together language! – wipes “the feet of the same” with her hair. Mark and Matthew know nothing of this anointing of the feet; only the head is anointed – that is in order! – So they also know nothing about the drying of the feet.

– – Oh, that one must speak about such things! If only they had fallen into oblivion, which will be their just fate. Now we still have to speak of them, but in such a way that no one needs to remember them anymore, thoroughly, sharply, devastatingly. It is not enough that we break the thorny chains with which they still want to bind us today: we must grind them, pulverize them! – –

But the woman, who comes to the house of Simon in Luke, approaches Jesus, who lay at the banquet, in such a way that she fell unnoticed at his feet, wept behind his back, wetted his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and kissed them – and only then she anoints them. (Luke7, 38.) That is in order! There everything is in order! The fourth, however, has disorderly gathered the key words together and thrown them into his report in a colorful jumble.


We have nothing to do with the second question in the form in which it is usually posed by theologians and critics: whether what Luke reports is the same story, since we have no material interest in such stories. Correctly, i.e. critically and aesthetically correctly posed: namely: is the report of Mark the literary basis for that of Luke? – only then it has interest for us and will immediately receive its answer.


5. The report of Luke.

C. 7, 36 – 50.

A Pharisee, who, as we learn from Jesus’ address (v. 40), is called Simon, invited the Lord to the table. But it is not said which was the city where the Pharisee lived, how Jesus came there, since already before it was not said where Jesus was when the message of the Baptist met him. Nain it is not, since the author has long since pushed back the interest that captivated the reader to this city, when he reports that the news of the revival of the young man spread throughout Judea and the whole surrounding area.

A Pharisee invites Jesus as a guest. Only Luke knows how to praise such kindness of the Pharisees; he lets the Lord very often be invited to the table by these his arch-enemies, in order to – strangely and rudely enough! – to give him the opportunity to be quite crude against them, sometimes thunderously. This contradiction is most vociferous in the breakfast scene C. 11, 37 – a contradiction that dissolves this whole breakfast and banquet pragmatism.

Once again, Jesus has the opportunity to strongly rebuke the Pharisee and accuse him of being beneath the sinner who – another contradiction! – had entered Simon’s house and dining room, without us knowing how she, as a stranger and even as a woman, could do this, and how she could stay in the room undisturbed until she showed her love to the Lord.


When she bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them *), the Pharisee – – another inconvenience – was not upset that a notorious sinner had invaded his house, but he was only inwardly surprised that Jesus, if he wanted to be a prophet, did not know that the woman was a sinner. Since he allowed himself to be “touched” so nonchalantly by her, it seemed that he did not know her status, so he probably was not a prophet. But if he thought that the touch of the woman defiled him, he should have immediately expelled her from the house instead of engaging in such foolish speculations about the prophetic gift of his guest.

*) On the fact that the woman anoints Jesus’ feet, it only comes up in Luke’s account because she had just been busy with his feet.

But the author of the verse did not notice these contradictions, because all that mattered to him was that the woman got into the house and the Lord had the opportunity to punish the pride of Pharisaic self-righteousness.

But how did Jesus realize that the Pharisee had just this thought, that he doubted his prophetic dignity? Just think! – It is not a small thing! – Just this particular thought! Small thing! He noticed it because the evangelist made him clairvoyant, omniscient!

Jesus does not directly respond to the Pharisee’s objection – this should only serve to open his mouth – but he speaks about something completely different: the extraordinary demonstration of love by that woman.

As the debtor who had been forgiven a larger sum by his creditor than his co-debtor would feel greater love, so – – but it does not follow what we expect; the whole thing is designed and executed in such a way that it mocks even the most reasonable expectation.


We would expect: “You have shown me less love because you have been forgiven less,” but instead the discourse takes a completely different direction. The Lord complains that the Pharisee has shown him nothing of love, not even the necessary courtesies. Later on, the discourse becomes more general and the personal consideration for the Pharisee completely disappears – which had to happen after such an unfortunate start – and it is said: “But the one who has been forgiven little loves little.”

What kind of reproach is this against the Pharisee! Has he not made his affection known to the Lord, when he — he a Pharisee! — invites him into his house? And when he asks him to the table, will he not have given him water to wash his feet, will he not have welcomed him with the usual kiss? And if it was customary and demanded, as we must assume after Jesus’ complaint *), the Pharisee will also have anointed his guest’s head. The reason why the Pharisee has to hear the accusations that Jesus makes against him is because, as the self-righteous person in contrast to the sinner, he needed to be rebuked. However, the Evangelist made a mistake by making the accusation about violated etiquette.

*) Theologians often talk on this occasion about the “well-known Jewish custom” as if they were very familiar with wonders in Judea! And they still dare to discuss the accusation of the Pharisee with seriousness?

Furthermore, in the view that the evangelist follows here, and which he only clumsily processes, the righteous and the sinners form an absolute contrast. The righteous are the healthy ones who do not need a doctor and are condemned (Mark 2:17). The evangelist has focused on this contrast between the righteous and the sinners, but he has weakened it, made it relative, by speaking of the contrast between those who are forgiven more or less, and he has also not fully carried out this contrast but crossed it with the absolute one. He wanted to bring the idea of that divine irony, which he borrowed from Mark’s scripture in that classical expression, to be manifested here, but he could not fully control the element, the material, in which he wanted to shape it. He did not go so far as to fully put Jesus in conflict with the Pharisee, because the account of the anointing in Bethany still dominates him, as he does not read in the original account that Simon the host was hostile, nor that the attitude of those who took offense at the anointing was decidedly evil. Hence the extraordinary confusion. Two interests intersected in the mind of the writer, and he could not give either of them the upper hand.


The same phenomenon is repeated in another form when, all of a sudden, the viewpoint that was just explained and was supposed to be concluded is completely reversed and turned in the opposite direction. At first, love is the result of forgiveness; now it is the opposite: because the woman has loved much, her many sins will be forgiven. We leave it to the Protestants to struggle with the agony and torture of this verse, as they are concerned about their salvation order – because a biblical verse can overturn everything – and instead we point out the reason for this reversal! It is because the report itself has left the assumption standing that the woman showed her love to the Lord before her forgiveness was declared, and because Luke is dependent on the original report in which the woman approached Jesus without hesitation before he had spoken to her about anything!

Finally, when Jesus said to the woman: your sins are forgiven (v. 49), a whole new interest comes. The guests wondered inwardly “who he is that forgives sins also”. *). Inappropriate exuberance! The report should be finished now, since Simon’s concern is completely solved. Two collisions in one report is too much **), which is confirmed in the present report itself, if Jesus does not explicitly address this new concern – the reminiscence of the original presentation of this concern would then also have been too clear and too annoying – he only says – again clumsily, as if he had to defend the woman and not rather himself against a concern – v. 50: “your faith has helped you, go in peace. “This new concern is borrowed from the report of Mark about the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2, 7) and the form in which it is presented is formed after the exclamation of the disciples about Jesus’ power that he had exercised over the wind and the sea ***).

*) τις ουτος εστιν, ος και . . . . 

**) One must understand! These are not reports that reflect the often accidental configurations of real history, but productions of the imagination that are not disturbed by the accidental interference of reality. Everywhere the imagination – as with Mark – creates originally, the creatures are a complete and individually closed whole. The skillful imitator will also create complete, individual figures; but if he is unskilled, chance and the limited associations of ideas, the weakness of plastic power, will take the place of chance and caprice, which have their scope in empirical reality.

***) Mark 4, 41 τις αρα ουτος εστιν οτι και . . .


In short, the report of Luke is a tragedy. It is clumsily copied from the report of Mark about the anointing in Bethany, the woman became a sinner, because the author wanted to use this report – why? we will see later! – to give a vivid expression to the irony about the righteous and the sinners, and Simon, who has now become a Pharisee, takes the place of those who took offense at the anointing in the original report.

If we leave aside the theological babbling about the kinship relationship between Simon and Lazarus, perhaps the opinion of Gfrörer is worth mentioning. He regards the Gospel of John as a sanctuary of truth: Judas, Simon’s son, was the one who was angered by the anointing. “In the mouth of the legend,” this Judas, Simon’s son, was turned into the simple Simon, and the hateful, wicked man finally became – as one may read for oneself – Simon the leper; as such, he became the host in the Gospel of Luke. “So events change under the hands of the legend!” *) “I could demonstrate this,” Mr. Gfrörer continues, “from lively examples, anecdotes about Frederick and Napoleon that are circulating among the people and old soldiers in this country. ” It’s a pity that these lively examples come too late, as we have now shown that events can change greatly “under the hands” of writers, and that in particular, this time the Simon of Mark, after becoming the Simon of Luke, became the Judas, Simon’s son of the Fourth. It’s a pity that only the Fourth knows that Judas’ father’s name is Simon. It’s a pity that Mark placed the anointing in the aesthetically correct chronological relationship to the death of Jesus, and the Fourth inserted many alien things between them and to that end turned Mark’s two days into six! It’s a great pity that the Gospel of Mark is so pushy and threatening to theologians and critics!

*) The Holy Saga, l, 179-181.


If, by the way, through the power of that ironic contrast, Luke succeeded, more than he himself knew, in creating one of the most excellent objects of Christian art – the sinner is the objective, personified expression of that irony about the contrast of the sinner and the righteous; her tear is itself already the victory and the mockery of this contrast of reason – then Mark, in forming his story of the anointing, also succeeded in giving expression to a view that belongs essentially to Christianity. What basically drove him to work out this story full of the anointing in Bethany was not the antithesis that the anointing and embalming, which according to the plan of his writing should not be given to the body of the Lord, should be carried out in advance, but the other interest, that now, when the sufferings and pains begin, nor was it simply the motive that the body of the Most High should be symbolically protected from decomposition or represented in advance as the incorruptible one – all these motives were involved in the creation of this narrative, but the main motive was the feeling of veneration for the incorruptible body of the Lord. The body of the Savior has already received the high significance for the point of view on which the Gospel was written, which it enjoyed in the classical and plastic time of Christianity, in the time of Catholicism. The body became – and rightly so, since it is unique in its kind – the object of veneration, pious contemplation and care. But this veneration, contemplation and care was especially obligatory for the woman, since she is more sentimental and more capable of joy, which smiles through tears, than the man. Only a woman is allowed to rejoice and weep at the same time, as she is the only person who can mourn and care for the body of death, which is also the eternal and incorruptible body. It is the woman who, in those Catholic images, holds the body of the crucified in her lap and gazes upon it with sorrow and love!


Moreover, it hardly needs to be mentioned that the assumption that the sinner was Mary Magdalene, whom Luke later mentions as a person not previously mentioned (Chapter 8, verse 2), goes against the view of the Evangelist.


6. Theological Chronology.

If we now say a word about chronology, we certainly do not intend to make ourselves ridiculous and ask when that anointing of Jesus took place. The matter is already settled when we have found as a time determination that this anointing as this specific event only took place in the imagination of Mark *), and when we have stated that the Fourth Gospel has very inappropriately and unsuccessfully pushed the event back by at least four days. Rather, we want to give an example of theological chronology and language, and if we mention Olshausen for this reason, we ask that this not be understood as if Olshausen were unique in his kind, but all theologians down to Neander are just as skilled in language and chronology, and to their disadvantage, they only differ from Olshausen in that he has a method in such matters.

*) In this ideal world it was also only possible, what Mark alone reports, that the woman broke the alabaster vessel in which she had the ointment. But she broke it in that feeling of enthusiasm in which it seems to man that a vessel which has served a high, single purpose would be dishonored if it should afterwards again serve the use of ordinary life.

In order to make this method understandable to the reader, we must first note that Luke, after the account of the sinner, continues (C. 8, 1-4): “After that Jesus went about preaching in the towns and villages, and once, when many people had gathered, he took occasion to recite the parable of the sower. “Matthew, on the other hand, says that Jesus delivered the parable (C. 13, 1) on the same day that He had taken the stand against the Pharisees for violating the Sabbath and against the accusation that He was in league with the sower (C. 12). Luke has assigned completely different places to these events.


Now hear, Israel!

Matthew, says Olshausen *), connects the following C. 13 by such a certain chronological indication, with which also Mark 4, 1 agrees that one can consider the same (!) as belonging to each other (!). (We are silent about the language! Olshausen wanted to say that Matthew links the two chapters 12 and 13 to each other!) For this reason, here is the most appropriate place to include a story that Luke (C. 7, 36 – 50) has alone; this is placed by the evangelist in the most intimate connection with the story of the parable of the sower. (Every reasonable person would have to think that this is the reason to doubt that this story could be included here. Olshausen thinks differently, but must now dissolve everything that he has just said about the most intimate relationship, about definite chronology, into a very indefinite talk again). Of course, even in this case, the assertion of a strict order cannot be thought of, because while Matth. 13, 1 says: on that day, so that still the parable (! what language!) would have to be put on one and the same day with the preceding, we read after the story of the anointing (in Luke): ” in the following it happened “, which formula puts the following in any case on a late day. (Not to mention that Luke thinks that a lot of time passed between the anointing and the parable recital: isn’t that a strict order, if Matthew and Luke each indicate the chronology so definitely?) So (!) this passage should have been placed before C. 12 Matth, provided that everything in it happened on the same day with C. 13. (So? Because the evangelists do not keep a strict order? Therefore Olshausen wants to arbitrarily nest the reports and think that he puts each one in its right place? And what an enormously and wonderfully long day, on which everything happened, what Matthew C. 12. 13 reports). However, since the time indications in Matthew leave it completely unclear where the day begins and in Luke there is also no mention of the time of the anointing (Olshausen distinguishes it from the anointing in Bethany), nothing definite could be determined and that is precisely why (!) we let ourselves be guided by the “fitting together” of the following events to include it here. (And a few lines earlier we read the opposite “therefore”, that Olshausen wanted to include the event here precisely because the chronological indications of Matthew and Luke were very specific! Now it is said that they are unclear and uncertain! And if, as now suddenly turns out, they are indefinite, why include “the anointing” here? Because of the “fitting together of the following”? What kind of fitting together? Chronological? That was proven! Substantive? What kind of substance? Because the parable of the sower is mentioned afterwards? Or because the women in Jesus’ entourage are mentioned afterwards? Oh, you hypocrites, if Luke had not pleased to report the anointing exactly here, you would never have thought that there could be talk of a “fitting together of the following”!)

*) I, 428 – 430.


And why did Luke like to tell the anointing here, to include his transformation of the report of Mark just here? Certainly not because of the “fitting together of the following”!

But because he had just spoken about the relationship of himself and John the Baptist to the people in Luke 7:34-35. The Lord said that neither he nor John the Baptist could please the people; he did not lead the strict way of life of John, he ate and drank, and yet people called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Now, to make this word of his true, Luke immediately invites him to dinner and gives him the opportunity to prove his friendship for sinners. Therefore, because Luke 7:34 is based on Mark 2:17, that irony about the intellectual contrast between the supposedly righteous and sinners must now be woven into the account of the anointing. Or rather, Jesus’ statement about how the people judged him and the new interpretation of the original report on the anointing are a cohesive work that formed in the mind of Luke at the same time. Jesus’ behavior towards the sinner is meant to explain how the people could come to think of him as a friend of sinners.


If the origin of Luke’s account has now been proven beyond any doubt and Olshausen’s assertion – that the narrative of Luke is a “total distortion” of the parallels and is “incompatible” with the meaning of the biblical scriptures before Christian consciousness – must be repudiated by anyone who has even the slightest spark of love for truth and humanity within themselves. This is a consciousness that offers a repugnant defiance of truth, and while pretending to fight for truth and scripture, it is afraid of the truth and turns its nose up at scripture, plays tricks, lies, mocks and treats the most specific details and explanations of scripture as if they were the work of a schoolboy – no, even worse – which distorts scripture.

I still wanted, from Schleiermacher’s book on Luke, to give an example of

7. theological omniscience

Schleiermacher believes that what Luke and the others report is an account of the same event, “only viewed from a different perspective.” However, my desire to provide an example of theological omniscience from Schleiermacher’s writing has faded. I only note that according to Schleiermacher *), the criticism expressed by the disciples was “simultaneous” with the Pharisee’s objection. In the end, Jesus would have had to refute both that criticism and this objection at the same time, in the same words. John and Luke’s informant then divided this “simultaneous” duality!

*) p. 111.


Thanks, thanks, Mark, for freeing us from the theological lie! Thanks to the kind fate that has preserved the scripture of Mark to pull us out of the web of this hellish pseudo-science!

Understand! The unctuous, theological aberrations of earlier critics, such as Schleiermacher, we do not, of course, want to accuse as open lies; they are products of a still constricted, fearful time. But if one now comes to reproach us with Schleiermacher’s “sense of truth” as a horror and to condemn the free, human critic after the truth has come to light, one may expect only the strongest language from our side.

Instead of enduring this omniscience any longer, let us rather take a look at the fourth evangelist. We may only take this look now, after we have established all the necessary conditions.


8. The Adulteress of the Fourth Gospel.

It remains as we have proved in our writing on the Gospel history of John that the passage dealing with the adulteress was written by the author of the fourth Gospel.

The adulteress is the sinner of Luke. As she is accused by Simon in such a way that Jesus is reproached for having a friendly relationship with a sinner, as it finally (Luke 7, 49) raises doubts that Jesus acquits the sinner, so the Pharisees and scribes who bring the adulteress to Jesus assume that he will not declare himself against the sinner, indeed they hope, because they are sure that he will acquit her, to catch him thereby and to get a reason for accusation.

Lücke, who would like to absolve his John from responsibility for this passage, asks *): “But what entitled the scribes and Pharisees to count on such a decision from Jesus with certainty?” We have answered! The knowledge of the character of Jesus, which the Fourth Gospel obtained from the Gospel of Luke, he shares with those tempters from the very beginning.

*) II, 226.


But, the faithful theologians ask further, what was the collision in which Jesus’ enemies hoped to entangle him? No one has been able to determine it so far! Of course! Because the matter itself is vague and indeterminate, because the Evangelist himself had no specific understanding of it and no knowledge of the political and civic constitution of the Jews at that time, in short, because he copied Mark and Luke – who, however, mention a completely different collision. **).

**) John 8, 6: τούτο δε έλεγον πειράζοντες αυτόν, ένα έχωσι κατηγορεϊν αυτόν.

Mark 12, 13: … ένα αυτόν άγρεύσωσι λόγω. 23. 15: τι με πειράζετε.

Luke 20, 20: . . . . ένα επιλάβωνται αυτού λόγον, εις το παραδούναι αυτήν τη αρχή

Mark 3, 2:  . . . . ινα κατηγορήσωσιν αυτού.

One asks, as does Lücke, how the opponents could speak of stoning when, according to the almost unanimous testimony of the rabbis, the punishment for adultery was strangulation. But what did the Fourth care about the anxiety of later “Christian consciousness” and about the judicial system at the time of Jesus, of which he knew so little that he did not even dream of that anxiety. He was satisfied if, like Mark, he mentioned the Law of Moses in a discussion of marital matters. ***).

***) John 8, 5 : εν δε τω νομω μωσης ημιν ενετειλατο

Mark 10, 3 : τι υμιν ενετειλατο μωσης


Whether the punishment commanded by Moses still applied at the time of Jesus, he did not know and was highly indifferent to!

Although the collision between Jesus and his opponents may be viewed as serious and prosaic, it is ultimately meaningless and ill-defined, as the Fourth Gospel overemphasizes the criminal and scandalous nature of the event, transforming the compassionate sinner of Luke into an adulteress caught in the act. Nevertheless, Jesus’ response: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” is still beautiful in that it evokes the indefinite feeling of the transcendence of heavenly or moral justice over legal justice within us, touching upon the sense of moral infinity within us. However, setting aside the fact that the collision is too crudely depicted by the Fourth Gospel, the scene becomes artificial again when Jesus twice scribbles in the sand to show his contempt for the Pharisees, and the depiction becomes ridiculous when the Evangelist describes how the tempters “slip away one by one, beginning with the elders.” This is a pretentious exaggeration of the synoptic expression: “He shut their mouths”, or they “went away”, or “they marveled,” or “they kept quiet, and no one dared to ask him anymore.”

The description of the situation in which Jesus found himself when the Pharisees brought the woman to him is borrowed from the Synoptics’ account of Jesus’ way of life during his stay in Jerusalem, and is especially copied from Luke.

The fourth says *) that after the quarrel with the crowd and the councilors (C. 7) and when the trouble of the Feast of Tabernacles was over, “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives; and early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.” Luke tells us that Jesus, while in Jerusalem, “taught in the temple by day, and went out by night, and lodged in the mount of Olives: and early in the morning all the people rose up to hear him in the temple.

*) John 8, 1. 2: επορεύθη εις το όρος των ελαιών. όρθρου δε πάλιν παρεγένετο εις το ιερόν και πάς ο λαός ήρχετο προς αυτόν, και καθίσας εδίδασκεν αυτούς.

Luke 21, 37, 38: ήν δε τας ημέρας εν τω ιερώ διδάσκων, τας δε νύκτας εξερχόμενος ηυλίζετο εις το όρος καλούμενον ελαιών. και πάς ο λαός ώρθριζε προς αυτόν εν τώ ιερώ ακούειν αυτού. Luke’s own fabrication ! Mark did not think it was worth the effort to record the details of the diary to that extent. He only shows the reader that the Lord must have had an inn in Bethany.


From Luke, the fourth has “all the people”, whereas otherwise he knows “the multitudes”. Luke is to blame for the fact that after the bickering of the past days, “all the people” suddenly come to the Lord.

The fact that Jesus sits teaching this time is attributed by the evangelist to Mark, who also has Jesus sit in the temple and look at the people *).

*) Mark 12, 41: και καθισας – Luke did not omit this expression from the parallel passage, so the Fourth Gospel must have carefully consulted the text when developing this situation.

The scribes, whom he does not mention otherwise, are sent against the Lord this time together with the Pharisees, because he has in mind the passage of the Synoptic Gospels where the Pharisees and scribes appear to capture Jesus by fragments. But why does he now bring here a parallel to those attacks? As if he could not have used it in any other place, since in his case the hostility of the Jewish party is decided very soon!

The Pharisees put the adulteress in the middle, as Jesus did another time when the Pharisees were waiting for an opportunity to accuse him, when they were watching whether he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, and ordered the sick man to put himself in the middle **).

**) John 8, 3: στήσαντες αυτήν εις το μέσον.

Luke 6, 8: έγειραι και στήθι εις το μέσον.

Mark 3, 4: έγειραι εις το μέσον.

“Go,” Jesus says to the adulteress, dismissing her as he says to the sinner in Luke: “Go in peace”, except that the fourth makes him add: “And sin no more!” *)

*) John 8, 11; πορεύου και μηκέτι αμάρτανε. (Comp. 6. 5, 14.)

Luke 7, 50: πορεύoυ εις ειρήνην.

Luke 5, 24 : πορεύoυ εις τον οίκόν σου.

Mark 2, 11: ύπαγε εις τον οίκόν σου.


The theologians were very surprised and complained of arbitrariness when I explained that the whole glorious practicality of festival travel in the fourth gospel was nothing but a fabricated work, an external support with which the author wanted to help the weakness of the spiritual, inner pragmatism. They may now think about where the Fourth Evangelist knew so exactly that the incident with the adulterous woman took place on the day after that Feast of Tabernacles.

What a mind this evangelist had, who wrote a work like the one we have from his hand, after studying the synoptic Gospels so diligently!




Bruno Bauer Translation Update

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by Neil Godfrey

Bruno Bauer

I have resumed translating Bruno Bauer’s work on the gospels — Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin (Kritik der Evangelien und Geschichte ihres Ursprungs) — the link to all the completed chapters under Bruno Bauer in the right margin, beneath About Vridar.

The work is mostly machine translation (a mix of GoogleTranslate, DeepL and ChatGPT and direct human meddling). I have had to process Old German fonts to modern fonts in order to copy text for the translation and there are niggling errors here and there. I try to fix them but I am sure there are many I have overlooked. In case anyone does find anything particularly awkward I have included the German text with my processed modern fonts beside the translation so one can see where the errors might arise and offer a correction.

I asked ChatGPT what I could add about Bruno Bauer here that might be of interest to a general audience and here is its response:

Bruno Bauer was a prominent 19th century German philosopher and theologian, whose ideas were controversial and influential in shaping the cultural and intellectual landscape of his time. Here are some potential topics that could be of interest to a general audience:

      1. Bauer’s Critique of Religion: One of Bauer’s most famous works is his critique of religion, particularly Christianity. Bauer argued that religion was a product of human imagination and projection, rather than a divine revelation. He saw religion as a way of perpetuating social and political oppression and called for the abolition of religion as a means of promoting human freedom.
      2. Bauer’s Political Views: Bauer was also a political thinker, and was involved in various revolutionary and socialist movements throughout his life. He advocated for the overthrow of traditional monarchies and the establishment of a democratic republic and was a strong critic of the Prussian state.
      3. Bauer’s Influence on Marxism: Bauer’s ideas had a significant impact on the development of Marxism, particularly in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Bauer was an early critic of Hegelianism, which provided the philosophical foundation for many of Marx’s ideas, and his critique of religion helped shape Marx’s concept of ideology.
      4. Bauer’s Contributions to Biblical Criticism: Bauer was also a scholar of the Bible, and his work on the New Testament was influential in the development of biblical criticism. He argued that many of the texts traditionally attributed to the apostles were actually written much later and that the historical accuracy of the New Testament was suspect.
      5. Bauer’s Controversial Reputation: Despite his significant contributions to philosophy and theology, Bauer was a controversial figure in his own time. He was often criticized for his radical views and for his harsh criticism of the established order and was frequently denied academic positions or censored by authorities.

I asked a follow-up question for the next points:

While Bruno Bauer was never formally excommunicated from the Christian church, many religious authorities of his time saw his views on religion and Christianity as highly controversial and heretical.

Bauer was a theologian and biblical scholar who came to reject the notion of divine revelation and the supernatural elements of Christianity. In his view, Christianity was a human invention that perpetuated social and political oppression. These views brought him into conflict with both the established Christian churches and the secular authorities that supported them.

As a result of his controversial views, Bauer was denied academic positions and faced censorship and persecution from the authorities. He was also widely criticized by his contemporaries, including other intellectuals and theologians.

So while Bauer was not formally excommunicated from any particular Christian denomination, his rejection of Christian dogma and his embrace of radical and heretical ideas made him an outcast from the mainstream religious and intellectual establishments of his time.

I consider his analyses essential reading for anyone seriously interested in a critical exploration of the gospels. Of course much work has been done since that cannot be ignored, but Bauer’s insights are still provocative and often still deserve a place in any discussion today.





Why Did Written Stories of Jesus Take So Long to Appear?

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by Neil Godfrey

Sabbatai Sevi as messiah, sitting on the kingly throne, under a celestial crown held by angels and bearing the inscription “Crown of Sevi.” Below: the Ten Tribes studying the Torah with the messiah. From an etching after the title page of one of the editions of Nathan of Gaza’s writings: (Amsterdam, 1666)

Why does the first account of the life of Jesus appear as late as forty years after the crucifixion? The answer I long heard was that followers of Jesus were focused on his return and, expecting his return in their lifetimes, they did not see any need to write a historical account of his life. Scholarly texts of the gospels will explain that the ancient culture was primarily oral and word-of-mouth was the standard means of spreading news.  The same texts will assert that the first oral reports of Jesus’s sayings were written down about twenty years after the crucifixion although some brave souls have even proposed as early as four or five years later.

All of that sounds plausible enough — until one steps outside the mental bubble of those descriptions and compares with how people work in the real world.

I am at the moment reading Gershom Scholem’s exhaustive study of a widespread mid-seventeenth century Jewish messianic movement that fully anticipated the messiah to set up his kingdom in Jerusalem within a matter of a year or within a few short months. The messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi and the years spanned from late 1665 to 1667. Sabbatai Sevi was what we would classify as manic-depressive. When he was “on fire” he was “on fire” but when the mood left him he was really down, withdrawn, out of the picture. Most of the heavy lifting of persuading others to believe he was the messiah was the work of his “prophet”, Nathan of Gaza. (Nathan was able to persuade outsiders that Sabbatai’s “down times” were signs of his messianic “suffering for Israel”. It must be added, however, that Sabbatai could also come across as one possessed with a dignified and caring demeanour.)

Now I think it is safe to say that most of the everyday lower-class Jews living in the Ottoman empire and throughout Europe at the time were not highly literate. Jewish communities did certainly possess leaders, rabbis and elders, who were literate. And persons from well-to-do business families often had the fortune of a sound education. And there is no doubt at all that believers in Sabbatai Sevi far and wide spoke, recited and sang of his wonderful deeds and sayings along with those of his prophet.

It is also clear that oral reports were never enough. Yes, there was no substitute for the presence of a visiting eye-witness who could report and be interrogated orally of their visits and observations of the messiah and those closest to him. But given that those sorts of visits were few and far between in places as far from Gaza, Smyrna and Constantinople as Leghorn, Amsterdam and Hamburg, believers in Sabbatai Sevi and Nathan craved the arrival of letters to prominent persons — “clerical” or business persons — in their communities. Believers would flock to the ports to meet ships with expected letters as they docked. And the prophet Nathan was not lax, nor were others who were closely associated with the “messiah”. They wrote and wrote to acquaintances and to acquaintances other acquaintances and contacts. Then those who received letters copied them both for preservation and sharing more widely still. People came to hear them read in public and private venues. Others were inspired by the reports of this news from a distance to write poems, hymns, prayers that they shared with fellow believers.

By such means believers were convinced that great miracles had been performed by the messiah, even raising the dead and appearing before authorities in a pillar of fire. They were also led to believe that the “lost” Ten Tribes of Israel were on the march to conquer Mecca and would soon arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. The ruler of the Ottoman empire was about to hand over the “keys of the kingdom of Israel” to Sabbatai Sevi without a fight. Many believers sold everything and left to live in Jerusalem in order to be where the action was when that day of the messianic kingdom came.

What sustained the believers in their excitement, what they loved to create and share in their thrilling expectation that the kingdom of God was to be inaugurated within a matter of mere months, at most a year? What did they share along with their singing and dancing and fellowship? Copies of letters, copies of written poems and prayers, all speaking of the great wonders and powerful words of the messiah who was about to be made known as God’s anointed to the whole world.

In the accounts of the believers in Sabbatai Sevi, one notion never arises: “that there is no point in writing anything about the man because we’ll all be in Palestine and he’ll be ruling over us all in just a few months from now.”

With that little episode in mind, one returns to the question of why it took so long for written accounts of Jesus to appear.

Scholem, Gershom. Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626–1676. Translated by R. Werblowsky. Reprint edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.


The Fairy Tale Ideal World of the Gospel Story as a Living Hell

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by Neil Godfrey

From livingconcord.com

I was once met with frozen silence in a forum set up for Bible scholars when I expressed the view that the Gospel of Mark has a fairy-tale type introduction: “John the Baptist came preaching and all (πᾶσα) the region of Judea and of Jerusalem went out to hear him and were all (πάντες) baptized confessing their sins…” No one reads that introduction in Mark 1:5 literally. “Obviously” not “everybody” went to hear John and be baptized. No? But that is the opening scene of the gospel. To read it as history we have to interpret “all” as an exaggeration. But what if the story is about an ideal scenario?

In struggling through my machine translations of Bruno Bauer’s chapters on gospel criticism I was pleasantly surprised to find the same thought expressed in relation to other passages in the gospels. Recall Jesus telling the would-be disciple who wanted to go and bury his father before setting out to follow him. BB points out that such a scenario can only happen in an ideal story world: no teacher could maintain widespread admiration if he forbade a person from fulfilling obviously meaningful family responsibilities. Readers accept the story at face value because it is an ideal scenario, not a real-life depiction. We know the point is to teach readers the moral of putting Jesus before family ties; but no one seriously expects a teacher to command a man to walk away from his father’s funeral in order to follow him right then and there.

Jesus’ message is to leave behind the world of the “spiritually dead”. The entire exchange is a kind of parable. It is not real life.

Yet, as per the previous post, sometimes very smart people can read the account as a literal life-and-death message that applies in the here-and-now. And that’s when the hell starts. I recall years ago walking away from a religious belief system in the stunned realization that I had been living in a fairy tale world. As children, we may fantasize about living in a fairy tale world but as adults, that game can literally be hell for loved ones, even deadly.

Hector Avalos wrote a book, Bad Jesus, illustrating exactly how a literal reading of the gospels makes good characters — and readers who are devoted to those characters — bad.


Are There Really “Keys” to Understanding the New Testament? (Charbonnel continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

By the time I finished reading Nanine Charbonnel’s penultimate chapter of Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier a queasy sense of déjà vu dragged my mind back decades to a time when I believed that the Bible was a coded book that needed “keys” to open up its true meaning to modern readers. Before Michael Drosnin‘s The Bible Code made its appearance I had memorized all “seven keys” that one particular cult said were required for “understanding the Bible” (according to that cult’s own doctrines, of course). So after I finished reading Nanine Charbonnel’s quite different approach to understanding the nature and origins of the gospels in which she does indeed raise the spectre of authors writing narratives whose meanings are hidden, I had to pause. Had I in one sense come full circle after all these years? What is the difference between Drosnin and Armstrong on the one hand and what Charbonnel [NC] was proposing on the other? Read on and see.

The Key of Creative Multilingualism

One man’s fish is another man’s poisson captures in a humorous way what much of midrash is about: word games, double entendres, mixtures of languages. (By the way, that link is to Mal Webb’s page of his recording of the song that I first heard him sing at a Woodford Folk Festival.) The wordplay in gospel midrash is more serious, of course, with its ambiguities in the names and events making up the gospel narratives and their doctrinal themes and innovations.

NC earlier pointed out the multiple layers meaning in the inscription on the cross written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Similarly, the stories are told at multiple levels. (Another example: We read of Greeks making their appearance at the final feast of Jesus and are led to recall the prophecy that testifies of the hour the Son of Man is to be glorified — John 12:19-23.) To focus on one passage . . . .

Eli, eli . . .

We are familiar with the last words of Jesus on the cross where he quotes the first line of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27:46-67

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 

Mark 15:34

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

But scratch the surface and interesting questions appear . . . .


Two divergent religious traditions can be identified by the slight change of rhythm arising from where one places a single accent in one word translated from a Psalm spoken by Jesus on the cross: Depending on where one places the accent of lama (in lama lama sabachthani) we have either the Christian “Why [asking for God’s motivation] have you forsaken me?” spoken by Jesus on the cross or the Jewish “To what end [asking what will be the outcome] have you forsaken me (or exiled us)? The explanatory details of this difference are added at the end of this post.


2 “So what does the word sabachthani used in the Gospels mean? It means: You have praised me, You have glorified me! For it must be linked to the Hebrew and Aramaic root sabath, meaning: to praise, to glorify, and not to the Aramaic root sabaq, meaning to leave. Therefore, the Word spoken by Christ would not be: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? But: ‘My God, My God, why have You glorified me?’ or, better still: ‘My God, My God, how much You have glorified me'”. (various encyclopaedias). — NC, footnote p. 434

There is something more serious: the meaning of the verb. One might be surprised that the phrase transcribed in Matthew’s Greek is “lama sabachtani” and not the Hebrew of the psalm text, i.e. “lama azavtani“? This is because the psalm is in Hebrew, and Matthew’s phrase in Aramaic. But there would be an error of translation, already made by the Septuagint2.

One can think that in the original midrash there was a play on words on this root, allowing the word to be read as meaning either “abandoned” or “glorified”, and that the translator of the Gospel, inspired by the Septuagint, did not see the play on words, and took up the translation of the Septuagint, giving exclusively to “AZaVtaNi” the meaning of “abandoned”.

(Translated from page 434 of Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier)


The authors of Matthew and Mark directly draw our attention to possible misunderstandings arising from similar-sounding words heard in the last words of Jesus on the cross. Jesus speaks the words of the “messiah David” but bystanders mishear him and think he is calling for the prophet Elijah. The author is drawing our attention to confusions arising from languages.


NC adds another pun that is indirect but perhaps meaningful: Is not Levi-Matthew the changer, the changer of language? If Matthew is the same as Levi in the Gospel of Mark we find there that he is identified as son of Alphaeus, a name meaning “change” — see one of the Vridar posts on puns in Mark. Here NC takes a glance (in a footnote) at another suggestion by Maurice Mergui:

Immediately after the healing of the paralytic, Jesus-Joshua called on Levi-Matthew.

Mk 2:14 – As he passed by, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs office, and said to him, “Follow me. And he got up and followed him.

Why is this Levi the son of Alphaeus (from the Hebrew root meaning to change, to switch, to convert money). Son of a money-changer, that should remind us of something. Money changers were among the merchants in the temple. Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple. He drives their sons, the Levi, out of the Temple. This is (again and again) the leitmotif of the eschatological reversal (The first shall be last) that hides under the guise of an innocuous verse.

As he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs office

“Passing by” here also means “forgiving” (Hebrew meaning of ‘avar). This is a repeat of the midrash quoted above: the proselytes will marry kohanim and be inside, while the Levites will be outside. At the end of time (but this clause is still absent and the verbs in the present tense) the election will be reversed. The Gentiles will “come in” and you Jews will be out.

(translated from Le Centurion indigne)

The Key of Gospel Emphasis on True Meaning

Plays on the above multilingual ambiguities are readily grasped once we have our attention drawn to them. There are other forms of multiple meanings with special attention directed to the lack of comprehension of outsiders. We find this theme stressed most bluntly in the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John: staged misunderstandings

The evangelist relishes making the confusion public:

  • John 2:19-21 — Exchange with the Jews: Temple is the Body and Rebuilding is the Resurrection (though what happens in the mind of a reader who recalls the metaphor of the people of God being the Temple?)
  • John 3:3-4 — Exchange with Nicodemus: Born again is confused with Born from above
  • John 4:10 — Exchange with Samaritan woman: running water and living water
  • John 4:31 — Exchange with disciples: Food is Doing God’s will
  • John 8:33-35 — Exchange with accusers of the adulterous woman: Slavery is subjection to sin
  • John 11:11-13 — Exchange with friends of Lazarus: sleep is death

The Key of Narrative Interpretation

In contrast to the absence of subtlety in the Gospel of John, we find “consummate art” in the Synoptics. Notice Luke 4:21

Now he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears’

Here Jesus (whose name means “God saves”) is presented as reading the very prophet (Isaiah, the name likewise means “God is salvation”) who is the source of Luke’s less obvious agenda. That agenda is to proclaim that the time of the prophets and the accomplishment of the end-time on earth is being taught on this sabbath by the prophet Isaiah through Jesus, “Yahweh saves”. The passage being read is specifically addressing the place of gentiles among God’s people who have been suffering because of their sins, the time when all must be brought together under God. That being the beginning of Jesus’ preaching, the author of the Gospel of Luke draws it all to a fitting closure: Luke 24:27 Continue reading “Are There Really “Keys” to Understanding the New Testament? (Charbonnel continued)”


The Gospels as Figurative Narratives (Charbonnel continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

Note the historicizing imagination at work….

François-René de Chateaubriand

We find this same phenomenon with Chateaubriand. He writes at the beginning of the fifth part of his Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem:

On October 10, early in the morning, I left Jerusalem through the Ephraim Gate, always accompanied by my trusted Ali, with the aim of examining the battlegrounds immortalized by the poet Tasso.

For twelve pages in the chapters devoted to the Holy Land, the story of the pilgrim stands out for its exceedingly natural and sincere enthusiasm. He forgets the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, the convents, and the monks. He simply tries to rediscover on the spot the framework, not of the last days of Jesus and of the Passion, but of the principal heroic and moving episodes from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, in a kind of romanesque topographical revery:

Proceeding to the north of the city, between the grotto of Jeremiah and the Sepulcher of the Kings, I opened Jerusalem Delivered and was immediately struck by the accuracy of the poet’s description. Solime (that is, Jerusalem), says Tasso, stands on two opposing hills …. Nature offers only an earth that is arid and naked; no springs, no streams refresh the barren grounds; one never sees flowers blooming; no stately trees spread their shelters against the sun’s rays. At a distance of more than six miles there emerges only a forest casting a baleful shade that inspires horror and sadness. Nothing can be more clear and precise. The forest situated six miles from the camp, in the direction of Arabia, is not an invention of the poet. William of Tyre speaks of the wood where Tasso makes so many marvels happen. Godfrey finds there the timber for the construction of his war machine’ … Aladin sits with Erminia on a tower built between two gates from where they can observe the fighting on the plain and the camp of the Christians. This tower is still standing, together with several others, between the Gate of Damas and the Gate of Ephraim.

In fact, the tower exists in the imagination of Chateaubriand, for he imagines the shadow of a tower and the phantom of a forest. He continues: . . .

. . . . It is not as easy to determine the place where the runaway Erminia meets with the shepherd on the edge of the river.

Note that we deal here with pure fiction (the episode of Erminia among the shepherds at the beginning of the seventh canto); yet Chateaubriand looks for its location with the same seriousness one would use in localizing a historical fact. . . .

This is an evocation, on site, of a romanesque tale-that of Chateaubriand’s detour to the Holy Sepulcher when he went to visit the holy places. It reminds us of the detour Renan made, during his mission to Phoenicia, to find the sites and the framework of that other fiction which would become the Gospels.

And still it is true that the events told by Tasso are not without verifiable historical reality, since they agree in many points with the history of the Crusades, on which we can rely. “We will see,” says Chateaubriand, “how much Tasso had studied the original documents when I translate the historians of the Crusades.” But for the story of the Gospels we have no text, no testimony concerning most of the events they recount, a century after they happened.

Maurice Halbwachs

Nanine Charbonnel, whose book Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure De Papier we are continuing to discuss in this post, then drives home the key point for her thesis that Halbwachs dares to affirm about the gospels and that I quote from the English edition of On Collective Memory:

This is the source of the thesis that “the Gospels, which were an apocalyptic revelation in the first century, became a legendary form of narrative in the second.” Let us understand by this that a mystical belief, a vision that moved the mind into the religious and supernatural realm, was transformed into a series of events that developed on the human level, even though these also had a transcendental significance.

(Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, pp 205-209, formatting and bolding is mine in all quotations)

We are now entering NC’s final main chapter examining the “masterful creative syntheses” with which the gospel narratives have been written and that the previous posts have been covering.

The creative method of the evangelists has had a more enduring spell than we find in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and was explained long ago, NC notes, by David Friedrich Strauss:

From https://famvin.org/en/2018/09/14/signs-vincents-charism-is-alive-and-well-today/

Further, the fishermen, at the call of Jesus, forsake their nets and follow him; so Elisha, when Elijah cast his mantle over him, left the oxen, and ran after Elijah. This is one apparent divergency, which is a yet more striking proof of the relation between the two narratives, than is their general similarity. The prophet’s disciple entreated that before he attached himself entirely to Elijah, he might be permitted to take leave of his father and mother; and the prophet does not hesitate to grant him this request, on the understood condition that Elisha should return to him. Similar petitions are offered to Jesus (Luke ix. 59 ff.; Matt. viii. 21 f.) by some whom he had called, or who had volunteered to follow him; but Jesus does not accede to these requests: on the contrary, he enjoins the one who wished previously to bury his father, to enter on his discipleship without delay; and the other, who had begged permission to bid farewell to his friends, he at once dismisses as unfit for the kingdom of God. In strong contrast with the divided spirit manifested by these feeble proselytes, it is said of the apostles, that they, without asking any delay, immediately forsook their occupation, and, in the case of James and John, their father. Could anything betray more clearly than this one feature, that the narrative is an embellished imitation of that in the Old Testament intended to show that Jesus, in his character of Messiah, exacted a more decided adhesion, accompanied with greater sacrifices, than Elijah, in his character of Prophet merely, required or was authorized to require?

(Strauss, Life of Jesus, Part II, chapter v § 70)

NC stresses that there is more here than imitation and amplification: it is the messianic situation of the End Times that demands the difference.

We need to understand and at some level to know that the gospels are not like other literature. They are not like the Iliad and Odyssey or Greek novels, nor are they like allegorical Greek myths, nor are they typical tales of the marvelous and fantastic.

Some ways they differ from other literature:

  • The gospels put into narratives the principles of Judaism. The miracles, for example, are not tales of the marvelous but are coded signs within the hermeneutics of the Hebrew Bible. It is impossible to genuinely understand anything in the New Testament if it is read apart from the context of the Hebrew Bible.
  • The principles of Greek literature (e.g. Greek tragedy) only function to give form to an entirely Judaic theme. (NC refers to Bruno Delorme and his Le Christ grec: De la tragédie aux évangiles but a similar discussion is found in Gilbert G. Bilezikian’s  The Liberated Gospel: A Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy.)
  • Above all, “perhaps the key to their genius”, is that the gospels transform into supposedly real characters and situations statements that are expressions of language or poetic formulations from OT texts.

Examples follow.

Transforming persons and actions into meaningful words

Recall the discussions where we noted that not only were names of persons given for symbolic reasons but even characters themselves were created as symbols of entire communities: the Samaritan woman is the Samaritan people; Mary is the Jewish people and the other Marys are different facets of the Jewish people (e.g. Israel as a prostitute, etc).

Another example points to the complexity we sometimes find here. Manna, the word meaning “what is it?”, was given to the “bread” in the wilderness. Bread elsewhere becomes a symbol of the word of God. Prophets are made to eat scrolls full of written words. The question “what is it?” becomes the question one asks of the meaning of God’s word.

“Walking in the way” is a metaphor for righteous living according to the law. So in the gospels the healing of a paralytic, one who cannot walk, brings to mind the restoration of the gentiles who were hitherto without the law of God.

Invention of Nazareth and the Nazorean

Continue reading “The Gospels as Figurative Narratives (Charbonnel continued)”


The Incarnation of The Name – Continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Sublime Paper Figure Jesus Christ

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by Neil Godfrey

All posts in this survey of Nanine Charbonnel’s book are archived at  Charbonnel: Jesus Christ sublime figure de papier.

Getting Real

The striking difference between pre-Christian Jewish concepts and those of Christianity is that the latter eschewed abstract notions of messiahs and divine messengers and fleshed them out with names and personalities. Where we read in the Qumran scrolls about a “Teacher of Righteousness”, Priests, Messiahs, Overseers, in the early Christian literature we meet personal names (Jesus, John) and titles (Christ, Baptist) and even signatures (Paul et al.) The new ideas were conveyed as stories, not merely abstract doctrines. Charbonnel cites André Paul, page 84, Qumrân et les Esséniens : l’éclatement d’un dogme:

We were no longer in the theoretical but in the real. We are talking about concrete people, who, moreover, have names. (Original: On n’était plus dans le théorique mais dans le réel. Il s’agit de personnes concrètes, qui de surcroît ont des noms.)

The question is: Were these the names of real people or were they the names of personifications of things to do with God and Israel and that pertain to salvation. Does the name of Jesus enter our history because it was the name of a historical figure or was it born as a personification of the Name of God? In the earlier posts, we saw how Jesus was made the personification of the People of God and of Yahweh on earth, and of the Temple and Glory of the Divine Presence (Shekinah).

Veneration of the Name

Within the heart of the Judaism of the Second Temple was the veneration of the name of God.

The name Jesus, as we know, derives from the Hebrew meaning “It is Yahweh who saves”.

The Jesus of the New Testament, Charbonnel posits, is developed in part from the two other greats named Jesus in the Old Testament.

Jesus I

First, we have Joshua (= Jesus) who led Israel into the Promised Land. Today few of us would connect God’s instruction to Moses about his messenger (commonly translated “angel”) bearing the divine name with Joshua, but we know from the second century Justin that early Christians did make that connection.

Exodus 23:20-21

See, I am sending an angel [= messenger] ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.

Here is Justin’s understanding taken from his Dialogue with Trypho, 75:

Moreover, in the book of Exodus we have also perceived that the name of God Himself which, He says, was not revealed to Abraham or to Jacob, was Jesus, and was declared mysteriously through Moses. Thus it is written:And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send My angel before thy face, to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to Him, and obey Him; do not disobey Him. For He will not draw back from you; for My name is in Him.Now understand that He who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus, and first called Auses(Oshea). For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses, ‘for My name is in Him,’ was Jesus. For, indeed, He was also called Israel, and Jacob’s name was changed to this also. 

Justin is writing in the second century but his explanation of the choice of the name Jesus does have a “midrashic” rationale.

Jesus II

Then there is another Jesus or Joshua, the high priest who, on his return with his people from the Babylonian exile led them in the reconstruction of the temple.

Zechariah 6:9-11

Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two [roles – Priest and King].’”

Jesus III

The third Joshua/Jesus inherits the roles of the first two.

Acts 2:21

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Romans 10:13

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Both are quoting Joel.

Joel 2:32

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

To paraphrase Charbonnel, the essence of Christianity is the affirmation that the Lord, the Name of the Lord, and Jesus Christ, are one. In Joel, the call was to invoke the name of the God of the Covenant. This invocation now passes to Jesus because Jesus himself is recognized as the one with the name of God.

The narrative of the Gospel of Luke begins with the name given to the messiah. He was (literally) “called the name” Jesus (Luke 2:21– interlinear). We find the same “called the name” formula for the Davidic Messiah in the Qumran scrolls:

4Q381, fr 15

And I, Your anointed one [=messiah], have come to understand . . . will tell others about You, for You have given me knowledge, and indeed You have endowed me with great insight . . . for I am called by Your name, my God, and for your deliverance . . . . [7-9. Wise, Abegg, Cook]

In 1 Enoch we read that the Name had a pre-existence:

1 Enoch 48:3, 6

Even before the sun and the constellations were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his name was named before the Lord of Spirits. . . . He was chosen and hidden before him before the world was created, and for ever [or, until the coming of the Age].

Paul writes from deep within this cult of the name. See 1 Corinthians 1:2 and in particular,

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus, we recall, was also the personification of the Temple, and also identified with its cornerstone. We find the Name of God at the heart of the Temple and its cornerstone in a later Jewish text that is widely interpreted as an attack on Christianity, the Toledot Yeshu. I quote the relevant passage of the Toledot from Frank Zindler’s The Jesus the Jews Never Knew:

The Robbing of the Shem (the Shem = the Name, the ineffable name of God)

. . . And there was in the sanctuary a foundation-stone — and this is its interpretation: God founded it and this is the stone on which Jacob poured oil — and on it were written the letters of the Shem, and whosoever learned it, could do whatsoever he would. But as the wise feared that the disciples of lsrael might learn them and therewith destroy the world, they took measures that no one should do so.

Brazen dogs were bound to two iron pillars at the entrance of the place of burnt offerings, and whosoever entered in and learned these letters — as soon as he went forth again, the dogs bayed at him; if he then looked at them, the letters vanished from his memory.

The name of Jesus may have been changed to Jeschu to rob him of the letters that would identify the name with that of the Name of Yahweh.

This Jeschu [Jesus] came, learned them, wrote them on parchment, cut into his hip and laid the parchment with the letters therein — so that the cutting of his flesh did not hurt him — then he restored the skin to its place. When he went forth the brazen dogs bayed at him, and the letters vanished from his memory. He went home, cut open his flesh with his knife, took out the writing, learned the letters, went and gathered together three hundred and ten of the young men of Israel. (pp. 428ff)

Here, in an accusation against Christianity, we see Jesus literally “embodying” the perfect Name, although he does so illegitimately. Celsus records a Jew saying something similar — that the name of Jesus had magical power although it was at the behest of demons.

Origen, Contra Celsus, I.6

After this, through the influence of some motive which is unknown to me, Celsus asserts that it is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power; hinting, I suppose, at the practices of those who expel evil spirits by incantations. And here he manifestly appears to malign the gospel. For it is not by incantations that Christians seem to prevail [over evil spirits], but by the name of Jesus, accompanied by the announcement of the narratives which relate to Him ; for the repetition of these has frequently been the means of driving demons out of men, especially when those who repeated them did so in a sound and genuinely believing spirit. Such power, indeed, does the name of Jesus possess over evil spirits, that there have been instances where it was effectual, when it was pronounced even by bad men, which Jesus Himself taught [would be the case], when He said: “Many shall say to me in that day, In Thy name we have cast out devils, and done many wonderful works.”

Bernadino of Siena with the IHS Christogram

This veneration of the name of Jesus continued throughout the subsequent centuries as witnessed in the lives of saints and the Christian Kabbalists. (See also the history of the name YHSWH – making the divine name pronounceable as Jesus — and the Sator square). Much has been written about the mystic analyses and plays with the divine name YHWH in later times but the point here is that a few of these ideas can be traced back to late antiquity and it is not unreasonable to think that their origins began in at least the gnostic forms of earliest Christianity and early elements of the Jewish religion. I may post some more details about these arcane ideas in a later post or two.

Till then, it is worth noticing that Moses created the name “Joshua” by changing the name of Hoshea to Joshua by placing at its beginning the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, God’s name. (Recall that in the earlier posts of this series that early Jewish scribes (and not only Jewish ones) found mystical significance in letters, their numerical values, puns, and so forth.) It was with the placing of this part of God’s name to Hoshea that the name Joshua was created by Moses to name the man who was to be imbued with the power of God to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

Jesus means “Yahweh saves” but such a form is not unique: the first of the minor prophets, Hosea, means “Yah saves”; Isaiah means “God saves”. We can find other instances, including Jesse and Josiah. Even Judas, from the Judah who sold Joseph, is set against Jesus by the addition of a letter at the end of the letters making up the Tetragrammaton.

The Incarnation as the Descent of the Name of YHWH

To worship YHWH was to worship his Name. The Temple was the dwelling place of his Name – 1 Kings 8:16; Deuteronomy 12:11. YHWH is even called the Name. The leading Jewish prayer, the Kaddish, is a praise of the Name of God: “Hallowed be thy Name”. The name of Jesus is: It is YHWH who saves — the lead figure in the narrative is the one who saves.

The High Priest’s function is to manifest the Name that Saves

Hence Malachi 1:11

My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord Almighty.

On the Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, the day of the Great Pardon, the high priest was said to pronounce the otherwise forbidden name of YHWH in order to remove all sins from Israel. Jesus himself is modelled on the high priest — as we also read in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Citing Christian Amphoux’s La Vie de Jesus, dialogue avec Renan, Charbonnel points out that it was through Joseph that Jesus was descended from David and thus a rightful king who had the potential to replace Herod’s dynasty, while through his mother Mary Jesus was related to John the Baptist, the son of a priest. Hence Jesus had the heritage to become both a political and religious leader. As a future king, he could be seen as a threat to Rome; but if he could also be a high priest then he posed a danger to Herod and his high priest. Machine-translating Amphoux,

James, leader of Jerusalem community: 40s – c 63
Simon, leader from 71 to c 110
Jude, driven from Jerusalem in 135

The dynastic lineage of John and Jesus was well constituted: the brothers of Jesus (Mt 13:55 / Mk 6:3) bear the names of the leaders of the Jerusalem community: James, from the 40s to his death, around 63; Simon, James’ cousin, from 71 to his death around 110; and Jude, driven out of Jerusalem in 135 with the other Jews. “‘

Continuing with Amphoux, at the baptism of Jesus the portrayal of the descent of the dove involves another wordplay if there is a Hebrew source behind it. Again a machine translation:

The image of ‘the descent of the dove’ is a play on the two proper nouns of the narrative: to descend is said in Hebrew y-r-d, and the name of the Jordan comes from this verb; and the dove is y-w-n-h, which gives the name of Jonah, which is an anagram in Greek of the name John (Iôna- / Iôan-). Thus, the two proper names in the story carry a message that is taken up in the image of the dove that descends. But what does this message say? John and Jonah refer to a third name, Onias, which designates the legitimate high priest, deposed in 175 B.C.; and the descent expresses the movement from heaven to earth, by which Jesus is invested with the function of which Onias was robbed. In other words, Jesus is invested as the new legitimate high priest, who is to restore to the Temple the priesthood that has been lost for some two hundred years.

Thus Charbonnel suggests the possibility midrashic elaborations on the Name contributed to the very belief in incarnation itself. We know gematria, finding significance in numerical values of the letters of a word, was a special interest among scribes. One scholar who has delved into possibilities here is Bernard Dubourg. In the first volume of L’invention de Jésus he notes that the Hebrew words for “son” and “messiah” have the same numerical value (52) as that of YHWH when the Tetragrammaton is read with the letters themselves spelled out with their names. The Hebrew form of the name “Jesus” likewise has the same value of 52 but only through “the descent of the vowels” (as the ancient scribes would say), or through the “voice” or “the spirit that gives life” to the consonants.

Another midrashic hypothesis relates to the titulus crucis.

John 19:19-20

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

Charbonnel suggests that here we find another test of the midrashic hypothesis, given that the hypothesis leads us to expect to find clues in the text to alert readers to its midrashic interpretation. One intriguing possibility emerges when Luke’s version is translated into Hebrew:

Luke 23:38

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

In Hebrew: zéh hou’ mélech hayehoudyim.

Now the expression ZéH Hou’ is unique in the whole of the First Testament and is found in 1 Samuel 16:12, when Samuel is to designate the king of Israel as the successor of Saul . . . : Jesse sent for him: he (David) was red-haired, with a beautiful look and a beautiful face. And the Lord said, “Go, anoint him: this is he/the one” . . .  For Luke, this sign declares to those who are willing to understand that Jesus is the king of the Jews designated by God, like David…

Or one can examine the possible Hebrew behind John’s description:

John 19:19


In_Hebrew: Yehôshoua’ Hanazir Wemelekh Hayehoudim



The name of Jesus is developed from YHWH, and perhaps even the sign on the cross identified YHWH.

The Name in Prophecy

Continue reading “The Incarnation of The Name – Continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Sublime Paper Figure Jesus Christ”


Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?

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by Neil Godfrey

I cannot prove that the gospel narratives are deliberately set in the time of Pilate so that the death of Jesus occurs a generation of forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE but I do think there are several reasons for suspecting that this setting was a conscious decision for theological reasons.

The first question that arises is this: How can we think that the gospels set the time of Jesus’ crucifixion forty years before the destruction of the Temple given that there is no explicit claim in the gospels to lead us to this conclusion?

I’ll begin by noting the existence of two implied prophetic timetables that are easily overlooked because the texts do not explicitly draw our attention to them.

  • Adam / Year 1
  • . . . .
  • Exodus from Egypt / Year 2666 (= two thirds point)
  • . . . .
  • Rededication of temple / Year 4000 (164 b.c.e)

One: Nowhere in the Old Testament books do we read that the Temple was to be rededicated after the Maccabean revolt 4000 years after the creation of Adam. Yet scribes appear to have edited the chronologies of the books in order to make the beginning of the new Israel in 164 CE to occur a neat 4000 years after God began his project with the creation of Adam. For some reason those editors did not feel a need to explicitly advertise the presence of this remarkable chronology but there it is. (For an explanation of this chronology which is taken from Thomas Thompson’s The Mythic Past see The Bible’s 4000 years from Creation to the New Israel — or if you are pressed for time there is a shorter earlier version, The Meaning of Biblical Chronology).

Two: Josephus in Antiquities indicates that he believed that the 70 weeks of the prophecy in Daniel 9 ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. (Antiquities X, 11, 7 — Beckwith, 533 ff). However, when we read in his earlier work about the Jewish War about the death of a high priest being responsible for the fall of the city, we find no explicit direction to suspect that either of these events had any connection with Daniel’s prophecy. Josephus writes about the death of a high priest without an explicit link to Daniel, but once we know from the later work what he believed about Daniel’s prophecy, then we are compelled to read the death of the high priest as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the “anointed one” who was “cut off” and whose death led to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem as the culmination of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Josephus doesn’t spell out the connection for readers. He is so quiet about it that one can say “only those in the know will know” the prophetic significance (the end of Daniel’s 70 weeks) of what he has described.

. . . an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. — Daniel 9:26

“I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city [= 70 CE] began with the death of Ananus [= 66 CE]; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their [anointed] high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem. . . . But it was, I suppose, because God had, for its pollutions, condemned the city to destruction and desired to purge the sanctuary by fire, that he thus cut off those who clung to them with such tender affection” (War IV, v, 2, 318. 323 — Beckwith, 535 f).

So there is no rule that requires that a fulfilled prophetic time can only be validly found in a text if an author spells it out directly. Do the gospels contain inferences that their setting in the time of Pilate has been fabricated to make the Jesus event happen forty years prior to the fall of Jerusalem?

The Book of Jubilees pre-dates the gospels. In the view of a good number of scholars (although challenged by Davies and Chilton) Jubilees 17:15-18:19 associates the (“would-be”) sacrifice of Isaac with the Passover. The Jubilees passage speaks of the twelfth day as the day on which the episode of testing Abraham’s loyalty to God begins, and “the third day” after that being the time of his offering of Isaac, that is, the 15th Nisan. The objection of Davies and Chilton appears to have been refuted on the evidence of Qumran texts according to Geza Vermes:

These views [associating the Binding of Isaac with Passover as early as the second century BCE] have found general favour among scholars during the last three decades, with the exception of Philip Davies and Bruce Chilton, who set out in an article published in 1978 to substitute for them ‘a revised tradition history’. I believe that in the light of the evidence from 4Q225 their counter-argument can be finally refuted. (Vermes, 144)

The Gospels do not always draw attention to their allusions to “Old Testament” themes and motifs and for most part rely on the knowledge of readers to make the connections. So the significance of Christ enduring 40 days in the wilderness is only recognized by a reader who is familiar with the story of the generation of Israel wandering 40 years in the wilderness.

The remainder of this post is based heavily on an article that I have had in my collection for quite some years now but unfortunately the name of the author is missing from my copy. The title is Sub Pontio Pilato: The Chronological Analogue of Supercessionism? The last words are only Trondheim, November 2008, M. W. N. If any reader knows who the author is and where the article was published please do get in touch. From the article (p.2):

Compare the many references to “this generation” in Luke: 7.31; 11.29; 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17.25; 21.32

And yet there are indications within the NT that the time of Jesus’ entrance into public activity may have been pinpointed only after the destruction of the Second Temple, so as to reaffirm the central doctrines of Christian beliefs. Forty is, after all, a symbolic number that appears several times in the HB and NT. One could hypothesize tentatively that the number forty had symbolic significance in the gospel chronology, too. But this is not what is meant here. In Mark 8.38 the following words are attributed to Jesus: ‘For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [έν τη γενεά ταύτη τη μοιχαλίδι και άμαρτωλφ], of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’. The designation ‘this generation’ and related phrases allude to Deuteronomy, where Moses relates how God eventually swore that not a man of ‘this evil generation’ would look upon the Promised Land (Deut. 1.35; see also Deut. 32.5, 20; Num. 14.11, 27, 35; Ps. 95.10).6 This language, according to J. N. Rhodes, is ‘an important rhetorical vehicle for evoking the history of Israel as one of disobedience and failure’.7 Since God had condemned the wilderness generation to wander in the desert for forty years, the associations inherent to the phrases, as used in the Synoptics, are strengthened by the chronological claim that Jesus made his appearance forty years before the disastrous events of 70 CE. The underlying premise seems to be that, by rejecting Jesus, the inhabitants of Jerusalem provoked God’s anger in a similar way as the wilderness generation had done in ancient times.

6 See U. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1963).
7 J. N. Rhodes, The Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 162- 163, n. 86.

Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Image from Catholic Exchange

All of that may be suggestive but is there more? Our unknown author makes some interesting observations about Parable of the Wicked Tenants. I highlight what I take to be the key sentence:

In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (123; 135), Christians are said to be ‘the true Israelite race [γένος]’. This commitment to Christian supercessionism is scarcely justified by the vague argument that, in the gospels, the authority of Jesus replaces the guidance of the, Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests (cf. Matthew 5-7). However, the idea that the Church supplants the Jews is expressed more explicitly in the gospels than might be supposed at first sight. This conclusion presupposes the position that Jesus’ harsh words on ‘this generation’ would not have been intelligible in a pre-destruction context.

The parable presupposes that the destruction of Jerusalem was the result of the killing of Jesus. As a direct consequence God slew that generation and replaced them with a new people, a new Israel.

If read allegorically, the parable presupposes that the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE came as a Divine reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus. The parable may therefore be taken as an indication that early Christians adopted and expanded on an already established idea, namely, that the fall of Jerusalem came as a Divine reaction to sin. This idea, variants of which can be found in several contexts outside the NT, has a scriptural foundation in Deuteronomy, which states that disobedience to the commandments will bring war, famine, pestilence, and exile (cf. Deut. 28.15-68). Josephus, for instance, held that the fall of Jerusalem started in 68 CE, when the high priest Ananus was killed by zealots (War 4.5.2).

If the parable alludes to the Fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of rejecting Jesus then “this generation” likewise . . . Continue reading “Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?”


Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series  . . .

A Messiah to combine the different messianic visions

Nanine Charbonnel [NC] has been exploring various ways the Jesus figure of the gospels was drawn to embody certain groups of people and now proceeds to discuss the way our evangelists (gospel authors) also found ways to encapsulate the different Jewish ideas about the Messiah into him as well. I have posted many times on Second Temple messianic ideas and questioned a common view that there was “a rash of messianic hopes” in first-century Palestine. I post links to some of these posts that illustrate or expand on NC’s points.

Various Messiahs

Vridar posts on Second Temple Messiahs

Here are some tags linking to the posts. (As you can see, there is some overlap here that needs to be tidied up but this is the state of play at the moment):

Dying messiah 5 posts
Jewish Messianism 11 posts
Messiah 17 posts
Messiahs 11 posts
Messianic Judaism 2 posts
Messianism 15 posts
Second Temple messianism 41 posts

And a catch-all category

Messiahs and messianism 95 posts

NC lists different views of the messiah as listed by Armand Abécassis (En vérité je vous le dis):

  • the messiah would be a priest (said to be “the Sadducee” view — though I cannot vouch for all of these associations)
  • the messiah would be a royal heir of David (said to be “the Pharisee” view)
  • the messiah would be a scribe descended from Aaron (said to be an Essene view)
  • the messiah was related to a kind of baptist or purification movement (said to be the Boethussian view)

Among the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are found at least three different types of messiah

1. the royal messiah, the branch or offspring of David, who is accompanied by a prophetic figure who is an interpreter of the law
2. the priestly messiah, an ideal priest from the line of Aaron

In some scrolls these two messiahs appear together. They are perhaps the idealistic corrective to historical kings and priests who were considered corrupt.

3. a “Son of God” figure, “probably a unique celestial figure”, appears to be divine, without a name assigned although in other manuscripts he is given the name Melchisedech, the agent of divine judgment against evil.

André Paul (whom NC is quoting) concludes that these three messianic figures were part of Jewish thinking in the century or century and a half preceding the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

Pre-Christian Jewish thought about these three different messiahs drew upon Scriptures to flesh out what they were to accomplish. The promise Nathan made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that his throne would endure “forever”, and the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-5 that a “branch will arise from the stump of Jesse”, and that of Isaiah 61:1 that “he will heal the wounded and revive the dead and proclaim the good news and invite the hungry to feast”, and many others, were applied to their respective messiahs.

One striking example outside the biblical texts is found in the Messianic Apocalypse of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To translate Andre Paul’s observation (quoted by NC):

We are struck by the astonishing relationship between this description of future blessings linked to the coming of the Messiah and Jesus ‘answer to John the Baptist’s question in the Gospels:’ “The blind see, the lame walk ” (Matthew 11, 5 and Luke 7, 22). […] A tradition identifiable in other writings of ancient Judaism serves as their common basis. 

The gospel authors were doing what Jewish writers before them had done. They were creating their messiah by pastiching different passages from the Scriptures. The gospels were even copying or incorporating the works of earlier exegetes as we see in the example of the Messianic Apocalypse.

It is these three types of messiah that “Christianity” will unite: Mashiach-Christos, High Priest (in particular in the Epistle to the Hebrews), and Son of Man. It has long been known that in the period of Christianity’s establishment there were struggles over the titles to be given to Jesus Christ. Can we not think that far from depending on different “legends”, the Gospels are midrashim voluntarily composed with a view to celebrating an existing messiah (existing in texts) to unite these divergent expectations? Those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus will make him at the same time the prophet, the priest and the king “thus cumulating all the functions of society and guaranteeing them” (Abécassis p. 290), aided in this by traditions already anchored in the Jewish society of the time.

(Charbonnel, 278, my translation with Google’s help)

We further have texts that have long been known to us, those we label pseudepigrapha. Among these are the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Some of these (the Testaments of Levi and Judah) speak of messianic variants: see TLevi ch2 and TJudah ch4.

NC next turns to biblical scholars questing for the historical Jesus and the significance they attach to the contexts of and emphases on different messianic allusions and sayings in the gospels — all in an effort to attempt to discern what Jesus may have thought about himself vis a vis what others (contemporaries, later generations) thought about him. But the whole exercise collapses when one approaches the gospel Jesus as a literary creation woven from the many messianic threads known to Second Temple Judaism.

From Amazon. Disclaimer: I know nothing about this CD set apart from what is stated on the Amazon site. I chose it entirely for the sake of adding a quick and easy graphic to the post and do not suggest that the contents relate to the principle theme of the post.

Both the Messiah Son of David . . . .

The view that the messiah was to be a son of David is well understood: Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; etc …; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-43) — even if the details varied somewhat in the different writings. Matthew and Luke make Jesus a genealogical descendant of David; and whereas David was anointed with oil by Samuel Jesus was anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, and so forth. 

NC takes us in for a closer look at what it means to be a “Davidic” figure.

First: the name David means Beloved. At Jesus’ baptism we are to hear a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Beloved son (Matthew 3:17). (The name given for the Jesus figure in the Ascension of Isaiah is Beloved; further, see the series on Jon Levenson’s book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. There we learn that the “Beloved son” is virtually a technical term for an only or firstborn son who is destined for sacrifice. NC does not touch on this work, however.)

That Jesus was resurrected from the dead is another “Davidic” qualification given that a “Psalm of David” was interpreted by early Christians as a prophecy that “David” would not “be abandoned to Hades” — Acts 2:22-23.

(NC does not mention in this context other Davidic features of Jesus such as his ascent to the Mount of Olives in mourning for his life; his suffering of false and cruel persecutions by his former associates and family; his role as a meditative figure. See What might a Davidic Messiah have meant to early Christians?)

What NC does bring out, though, is the link with the nation of Israel itself being named by God as his Beloved. In the Septuagint we find Continue reading “Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (2) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

One more instance of Jesus being a re-construction of the great heroes of the Old Testament that Nanine Charbonnel offers us an antitype of Joshua. There’s a catch this time, though. I think the attempt unnecessarily goes too far. At least there is no explanation to justify the claim that the narrative structure of the gospels follows that found in the Book of Joshua. Yes, Jesus begins his ministry like Joshua coming through the Jordan; yes, Jesus does offer a rest as Joshua brought Israel to the promised land; yes, a Lazarus does die in John’s gospel as Eleazar dies in the Book of Joshua. . . but these details do not make a narrative structure. To compare the delivering of the beatitudes (blessings and curses) in the Sermon on the Mount one must strain to match that up with Joshua’s pronouncements of blessings and curses on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. And to call upon the possibility of a Hebrew text behind Mark’s account of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law to note a series of puns related to Joshua’s sun standing still won’t persuade many readers. I can understand why this possibility was mentioned, however, since a primary theme of her thesis is that the gospels were created as Jewish midrash.

If we are looking for a structure that is common to at least the three synoptic gospels we do much better to look at Thomas Brodie’s and Adam Winn’s discussions of the Elijah-Elisha cycle.

More to the point for a comparison with the good shepherd Jesus is NC’s notice of Joshua’s appointment as a shepherd of his people. Thus Numbers 27:15-18

15 Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”

18 And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit . . . 

In keeping with the midrashic composition theme NC draws attention to Joshua being one to “go out” (ἐξελεύσεται in the LXX) before his people and to Matthew’s taking up the same verb (ἐξελθὼν) in 13:1

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake

But here the force of NC’s argument is lost when she says that Matthew is symbolically speaking of the end of time when the message goes to the gentiles. The only way I can see that her argument here can be salvaged is is the sea is the signifier of far-off peoples, of gentiles, as it certainly appears to be in the Gospel of Mark (Kelber’s Mark’s Story of Jesu.- link is to online copy of the book.) NC further extends the “going out” or “exodus” motif to the Gospel of John where Jesus can be said to leave his heavenly body and home to go to his physical people in a physical body.

Another possible bond between Joshua and Jesus is that Jesus professes to keep the least “jot” (yod) of the law while Joshua was faithful in transmitting the law of Moses. (There is more to discuss about the name of the saviour that is promised in a future chapter.)

Other Old Testament types can be found where Jesus is seen to transform them into “fulfilments” of higher ideals as the written words of Yahweh were believed to create fulfilments. But the most explicit figure that Jesus is made to embrace is that of the Messiah.

We’ll try to cover how Jesus embodies the Messianic figure in the next post in this series.

Charbonnel, Nanine. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier. Paris: Berg International éditeurs, 2017.



Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (1) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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

by Neil Godfrey

We now continue our exploration of Nanine Charbonnel’s case for Jesus Christ being a literary-theological creation using the techniques of a “midrashic” re-reading and interpretation of Jewish Scriptures. The full series is archived at https://vridar.org/tag/charbonnel-jesus-christ-sublime-figure-de-papier/

Double Personification

The gospel figure of Jesus Christ was created as a “double personification”:

  • he was created as a personification of a people — both the Jewish people and ultimately as a “new people of God”. Nanine Charbonnel [NC] calls this “horizontal personification”. This is why we so readily see in the Jesus character aspects of the ideal King, the Prophet, the Priest, the Suffering Servant, the Son of Man, the Messiah, who as a new Adam creates in himself one new people

at the same time,

  • he was created as a personification of the fundamentals of the Jewish religion and its spiritual and heavenly and eternal focus — he is the embodiment of God and God’s presence with his people. As such, he embodies the Temple, the Tabernacle, the Glory and Presence, Glory (Shekinah) of God, the Word of God, the Law, the Name of God through which he saves.

The authors of the gospels were familiar with the Jewish literary technique of creating individual characters to represent collective ethnic groups. Recall, for example, the creation of the Jacob-Esau story which begins with the explanation that the two boys represent “two nations” (Gen 25:23). Recent posts have set out NC’s illustration of this technique with lesser characters. By creating the gospel Jesus figure they were seeking to create a new person who represented both a new people of God and the God who came to dwell with them. NC details the way Jesus was drawn to embody the divine persons and entities. She calls this “vertical personification”. This post and those immediately succeeding it look at how the authors have created a “horizontal” personification of a “new man”.

The New Adam

Before the gospels were penned Christians thought of Jesus as a “new Adam”. Thus Paul in 1 Cor 15:45-49

The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. . . .

See also Rom 5:17-18.

This second Adam is created in the same way the first Adam was — as a symbol or representative of mankind. Adam is a literary figure, a single character, but one with whom all of humanity are meant to identify. NC quoted from Paul Ricoeur‘s discussion of the Adam myth:

In Adam we are one and all; the mythical figure of the first man provides a focal point at the beginning of history for man’s unity-in-multiplicity. (244)

Jewish elites have addressed the idea of Adam in Genesis. NC mentions Philo as an example. Philo determined that the Adam created in God’s image was the perfect, heavenly Adam; while the Adam of dust was the corruptible Adam who needed laws to control him from his base tendencies. We will see that the heavenly Adam is also the son of God.

It is “Yahweh who saves” (the Hebrew meaning of the name Jesus) who was imagined as the “new Adam”, the embodiment of (redeemed) humanity.

Another instance not mentioned by NC, but one addressed by many scholars commenting on the Gospel of Mark, is the apparent depiction of Jesus as the New Adam cum Messianic figure in the wilderness where he is “with the wild animals”.

and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:13)

The gospel begins with an echo of the beginning of Genesis (“the beginning of the gospel”) and after the parting of heavens (as per the parting of the waters “at the creation of the cosmos”– Allison, New Moses 200, Thompson, Mythic Past 18 ff, Spong, Liberating the Gospels, 33 ff) and leads to Jesus being tempted by Satan, with the animals and angels, as was Adam in Genesis and Jewish writings of the Second Temple era elaborating on the Adam story. Where Adam failed in his temptation, Jesus succeeded; where Adam once had but then lost his companionship and peace with wild animals Jesus restored harmony with them; where the angels refused to serve Adam they did serve Jesus. Jewish apocrypha also said angels fed Adam for a time. Other scholars prefer to interpret the passage as a proleptic fulfilment of harmony with animals by Isaiah’s messiah; some accept both interpretations together. I will post about this interpretation of Mark 1:13 with reference to Richard Bauckham, Ulrich Mell, Joel Marcus, C.S. Mann, Francis Maloney, John Donahue and Daniel Harrington in a future post.)

We saw in a previous post that the place of Christ’s crucifixion was also associated with the place of Adam’s burial. This likelihood is suggestive of Jesus being understood as the new life-giving Adam.

The New Moses

Since the twelve disciples are symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus is the new Moses. The famous transfiguration scene clearly indicates that Jesus is the embodiment of the law represented by Moses and the prophets represented by Elijah. Moses was made radiant as was Jesus; both were covered with the cloud of God’s glory; both were ordained by God to be the shepherds and teachers of the twelve tribes/disciples; both perform miraculous signs; and so forth and so forth. NC copies forty points that some Catholic exegetes have seen that demonstrate Jesus as the new Moses:

NC admits that not all of the 40 points listed there are unquestionable. One that springs to notice for me is the point that Jesus left a higher royal court to join his lowly people — as Moses left Pharaoh’s court to join his people — is taken from Philippians 2:5-7; yet this detail is not found in the context of a Moses comparison. There are, nonetheless, reputable scholarly works that make the case for the Gospel of Matthew in particular deliberately building up Jesus on the Moses template. One of the more notable works is The New Moses: A Matthean Typology by Dale C. Allison Jr. I looked at one of Allison’s discussions in the post Additional Sauces for the Feedings of 5000 and 4000. NC does not mention Allison’s book so this is my addition to her discussion and what I think is a more trenchantly argued replacement than the 40 point list. Allison states in his concluding chapter,S

The Moses typology, especially strong in the infancy narrative and the [Sermon on the Mount], definitely shapes all of Matthew 1-7. It is also definitely present in the great thanksgiving of 11:25-30, in the narrative of the transfiguration (17:1-9), and in the concluding verses, 28:16-20.1 am further inclined, but with less faith, to find the typology in the feeding stories (14:13-22; 15:29-39), the entry into Jerusalem (21:1-17), and the last supper (26:17-25). But proposals concerning the missionary discourse, the requests for a sign (12:38; 16:1), the woes of chapter 23, the eschatological discourse, and the crucifixion (27:45-53) are to be rejected or entertained as nothing more than possibilities.

An interesting observation emerges from the foregoing conclusions: the passages in which Moses’ tacit presence is the strongest display an order which mirrors the Pentateuch:

Matthew The Pentateuch
1-2 Exod. 1:1-2:10 infancy narrative
3:13-17 Exod. 14:10-31 crossing of water
4:1-11 Exod. 16:1-17:7 wilderness temptation
5-7 Exod. 19:1-23:33 mountain of lawgiving
11:25-30 Exod. 33:1-23 reciprocal knowledge of God
17:1-9 Exod. 34:29-35 transfiguration
28:16-20 Deut. 31:7-9
Josh. 1:1-9
commissioning of successor

(Allison, 268)

The Gospel of Matthew is not the only one where Jesus is portrayed as a new Moses. Compare this snippet from another post about a year ago, OT Sources for the Gospel of Mark, chapters 2 and 3

Mark 3:7-10

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many . . . .

Exodus 12:37-38; 15:22-26
The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and childrenMany other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. . . . Then Moses led Israel . . . He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
Mark 3:13-19

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Exodus 19:1-2, 17

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt . . . and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. . . .

Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

Exodus 24:1, 4, 8-10

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. . . .

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. . . .

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel.

Many more Moses imitations are cited throughout Isaiah’s New Exodus by Rikki E. Watts. One of many examples in which Watts is outlining the work of another scholar,

Although at first sight Mark appears to make little use of the OT, M. D. Hooker recognises that this is largely because of his distinctive approach. Not only is the opening quotation significant, ‘his story is good news precisely because it is the fulfilment of Scripture‘, but ‘Jesus’ words and activities constantly echo OT scenes and language, until what is “written” of the Son of Man (9:12; 10:21) is finally fulfilled’ (p. 220). . . . 

In the conflict over the Pharisees’ and scribes’ traditions, Mark 7:1-23 shows that while Jesus upholds the Law (vv. 1-13; cf. Nu 30:2; Dt 23:21-23) his authority is even greater than that of the Law (vv. 14-23). The same is borne out in examinations of 12:18ff and 28-34 (p. 224), and several Pentateuchal allusions (2:1-10; 2:23 – 3:6; cf. 1:44). Three other allusions recalling incidents in Moses’ life serve likewise to demonstrate that Jesus is either Moses’ successor (6:34, cf. Nu 27:17) or his superior (9:2-13; cf. Ex 24:15f; Dt 18:15), while 9:38-40 (cf. Nu 11:26-29) shows Jesus acting as did Moses.

(Watts, 24 f)

Scholarly Resistance to Comparisons

Continue reading “Jesus Christ Created as an Epitome of Old Testament Figures (1) — Charbonnel and Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #7 (conclusion)

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by Neil Godfrey


With this post I conclude setting out Nanine Charbonnel’s tables associating the gospels with Jewish Scriptures and other Jewish writings. With this section completed I am free to move on to discuss the remainder of her book, Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier.

The value of tables like these comes more from preparing them — or returning to them from time to time to take them in point by point — than a quick glance at them. One is compelled to ask about the intellectual world of the evangelists. One is brought into the mysterious world of what the authors read and spoke about, how they thought about what they read, what flashes of insight were sparked by their conversations all before anything was put into writing. Then by what creative process did each evangelist weave anew another variant of a story about a figure who represented a new Israel.

In the table below I have once again made a few edits to Charbonnel’s original. For one thing, not a few of the biblical references in French do not match those in English. All of these have been revised to their English references. A few times I was not sure what a reference or source meant so I have added a question mark to each of those places. (Example, [RG] — is this a reference to Rene Girard? If so, what work of his?) In some cases I have left Charbonnel’s notes entirely and replaced them with translations from the French (or Italian) source that had been cited.

None of the illustrations is in Charbonnel’s original table.

  • Some interesting features this time:
  • The crown of thorns might reasonably be associated with the parable of the thornbush that in the OT parable “would be king”.
  • Pilate’s famous “Here is the man!” statement has several possible sources in the OT, all associated, ironically, with ascension to kingship.
  • Matthew’s mob crying out for Jesus’ blood to be “on their heads” has in modern discussion been said to be an anti-semitic trope but when one notices its possible sources in the Jewish scriptures one sees it as originally not necessarily bearing any particularly anti-semitic connotation.
  • I had always been suspicious of those comments linking the old Hebrew letter tau with the cross of Jesus, but I am willing now to concede that there just might be something to the link. (I’m not suggesting that the original idea of a cross came from the alphabet, not at all.)
  • Another interesting link was the Jewish Scripture associations of the “good” thief’s dispute with his “bad” companion.
  • We all surely know of the Amos association with the sun going down at noon, but I had overlooked till now that this same image in Amos is tied to mourning for an only son.
  • The titulus crucis carries more Jewish Scripture echoes than I had ever suspected.
  • Nor was I aware of the earthquake at the time of Joshua’s death — a sign divinely activated to draw the population’s attention to that grave moment.
  • Again, we have several links to intertestamental literature and later rabbinic writings. And again, it is very reasonable to accept that those rabbinical writings had their origins in the Second Temple era and were known to the evangelists.
  • One related detail is the teaching that when Moses struck the rock twice, the first time blood flowed out, the second time, water. What was on the evangelist’s mind when he wrote of the spear drawing both blood and water from Jesus?
  • Justin Martyr’s quotation of Jeremiah is of special interest.
  • So is a Codex Bezae version of the Gospel of Luke. Again, we meet another piece of evidence that the evangelists knew the writings of Josephus, especially Wars. The east gate that miraculously opened by itself as a warning of Jerusalem’s doom was said by Josephus to have been so large that it took twenty men to open. The same image is found in Codex Bezae’s Luke.
  • I had known of the “I am” statements in the Greek Gospel of John but for some reason till now had overlooked them in the Gospel of Luke.
  • Charbonnel speaks of OT passages where one is said to “pass through walls” by the power of God, but the Hebrew speaks of scaling over. (A French translation does say “pass through” as the resurrected Jesus did.)
  • I would like to track down the Exodus Rabbah statement (in English) that foreshadows the “Do you seek the living among the dead” saying.
  • Oh yes… one more of particular note (for me) — is the “beloved disciple” a figure of the church?

Continue reading “Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #7 (conclusion)”


Reading the Gospels through a Roman Philosopher’s Eyes

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by Neil Godfrey

From LivingStyles (labelled for reuse on Google Images)

In the previous post focusing on Heracles (or Zeus-Heracles) as Logos I omitted a quotation that paired Heracles with Hermes (Roman name, Mercury) for the sake of trying to keep the focus on a single point. Here I am catching up: what the Stoic author Cornutus wrote about Hermes brings to mind several core motifs in the gospels, but in particular of the Gospel of Mark. (Don’t jump to wild conclusions, though. I am only exploring the religious/ideological contexts within which the gospels emerged.)

The Jewish philosopher Philo noted that Hermes was the prophet, the divine interpreter, but in particular, the messenger who brought to humanity “good news”:

ἄρα οὐχ ὅτι προσήκει τὸν ἑρμηνέα [=interpreter] καὶ προφήτην [=prophet] τῶν θείων, ἀφ οὗ καὶ
Ἑρμῆς ὠνόμασται, τὰ ἀγαθὰ διαγγέλλοντα [=messenger of good] (Legatio Ad Gaium, 99)

— It’s worth trying to imagine living at the time the gospels were first heard. Jesus, the messenger who brought good news, surely evoked in the minds of some another deity with a comparable role.

Shortly after Philo (in the time of Nero) the Roman philosopher Cornutus wrote Epidrome (or Greek Theology) in which he described Hermes as reason (= logos) itself, “the preeminent possession of the gods” and the one they have sent to us from heaven so that we alone of earthly creatures are rational.

— As per the previous post focussing on Heracles, Jesus was not unique in being identified with the/a logos.

I copy the translation of the key section by Robert Hays from his 1983 thesis, Lucius Annaeus Cornutus’ “Epidrome”. Cornutus has just described in depth those daughters of Zeus known as the gift-giving Graces [Charites].

1. The tradition holds that Hermes is their [i.e. “the Graces”] master, thus signifying that the bestowing of kindness must be reasonable: not random, but to those who deserve it. For the person who has been ungratefully treated [hoacharistētheis] becomes more reluctant to do good. Now Hermes is Reason [ho logos]. which the gods sent to us from heaven, having made man alone of all the living creatures on earth reasonable [logikon], a gift which they themselves considered outstanding beyond all others. He has received his name from his taking counsel to speak [erein mēsasthai], i.e., to engage in rational discourse [legein]. Or, perhaps because he is our bulwark [eryma] and, as it were, our fortress.

— Logos is translated Reason but note its close association with “the word”, in particular the spoken word, a word that brings life-giving benefits as we will see. Continue reading “Reading the Gospels through a Roman Philosopher’s Eyes”

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