2011-07-30

The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls — how like the Gospel Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

DSS fragment photographed by myself
Corrected and updated -- Neil Godfrey, 1:15 pm 30th July 2011 

Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/07/29

It is interesting to see how mainstream scholars are edging towards mythicist ideas.

http://nearemmaus.com/2011/07/28/the-future-of-historical-jesus-studies/

‘The old idea that exalted epithets such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” applied to Jesus reflect Greco-Roman thinking, rather than Jewish thinking, has been seriously challenged by the Aramaic fragment, 4Q246, in which an eschatological figure is described with these very terms. Moreover, the idea of a Messiah figure, whose appearance brings healing, resurrection of the dead, and good news for the poor—concepts that define the identity and ministry of Jesus—is now attested in 4Q521. Indeed, the idea of a figure who acts in the very place of Yahweh himself, in fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and an expected eschatological jubilee, is attested in 11QMelchizedek.’

Curiously James McGrath claims all Messiah figures were expected to be conquering kings.** (Note by Neil: McGrath has clarified that he is only referring to “Davidic Messiahs” and he does not dispute that there were other messianic notions among the Jews.)

And Mike Wilson is adamant that no Jew could have thought of a figure acting in the very place of Yahweh himself (unless that figure was a crucified criminal, if I understand Mike correctly. )

It is interesting that mainstream scholars claim that mythical eschatological figures, people who never actually existed, are described in the same terms applied to Jesus.

The texts are available online, but for easy reference I copy the relevant ones here, with links to the site sourced:

4Q246

“[X] shall be great upon the earth. [O King all (people) shall] make [peace], and all shall serve [Him. He shall be called the Son of] the [G]reat [God], and by His Name shall He be hailed (as) the Son of God, and they shall call Him Son of the Most High like a shooting star.”

4Q521 Continue reading “The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls — how like the Gospel Messiah”


2011-07-24

Popular Messianic Movements Up To The Time Of Jesus – Part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Abimelech was a son of the great judge Gideon ...
Abimelech was a son of the great judge Gideon: Image via Wikipedia

This post surveys the evidence and questions the conclusions of Richard A. Horsley (with John S. Hanson) in Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (1999) concerning messianic hopes and movements among the common people of Palestine up to the time of Jesus. It is some years since I first read this book, and my own views have since been modified by my studies of the contributions of “minimalism” (mainly through Thompson, Lemche and Davies) to what we can securely know about the history of Palestine in the centuries up to the Christian era. So it is interesting to return to Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs with that new understanding and to read the arguments again through more informed – and more critical – eyes.

In a couple of recent posts I shared Horsley’s presentation of the evidence we have for the understanding of literary elites on the concept of “messianism” (and “Davidic messianism”) up to the early first century CE. Horsley rightly stressed the “other-worldly” theological nature of these ideas and how removed they probably were from the masses. While Horsley emphasized that these ideas were unrelated to popular ideologies, I am now embarrassed to have to say I did overstate his position on what the peasant masses did have on their minds. I had allowed by the subsequent reading of ‘minimalist’ methodologies to interfere with what I recalled of his argument, and I have to now confess that he really did claim that the masses did have some “dormant” messianic hopes after all that were activated around the time of Jesus. (I will have to return to my earlier posts and re-write a few lines.)

But in my defence I will show in this post that Horsley’s assertion here is comparable to the assertions of scholars who concede that the gospels are so overlaid with myth, theology and literary artifices that they bury from view any historical Jesus, but we have to believe there was a historical Jesus behind it all just the same. Horsley’s evidence for popular messianic hopes supposedly unlike anything we find in the elite literature of the period rests squarely upon the assumption that the Old Testament stories of Judges and Davidic Kings were genuine historical eras. The link Horsley attempts to forge between those times and the period of Jesus is, I will argue, unnatural, speculative and without unequivocal evidence.

The Tradition of Popular Kingship Continue reading “Popular Messianic Movements Up To The Time Of Jesus – Part 1”


2011-07-21

Did the Jews before Christ expect a national Messiah?

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by Neil Godfrey

The answer is, I think, no. In this post I quote a few sections from Professor Richard Horsley‘s work Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus.

(Since there is currently a discussion under way at the Freeratio Discussion Board that relates to this question, and since this is a topic I have discussed a few times already, this is a good opportunity to bring out another work I don’t recall using as much as I should have before.)

Horsley notes that common views today about ancient Jewish beliefs about the messiah have been “heavily influenced by western christological doctrine.” (p. 89) That’s never a good sign. Religious bias getting in the way again?

He writes bluntly:

[R]ecent studies have made clear that in pre-Christian times there was no general expectation of “The Messiah.” Far from being uniform, Jewish messianic expectations in the early Roman period were diverse and fluid. It is not even certain that the term messiah was used as a title in any literature of the time. There was no uniform expectation of “the messiah” until well after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., when it became standardized as a result of scholarly rabbinic reflection. In fact, the term is relatively rare in literature prior to, or contemporary with, Jesus. Moreover, the designation messiah is not an essential element in Jewish eschatological expectation. Indeed, a royal figure does not even occur in much of Jewish apocalyptic literature. Thus it is an oversimplification and a historical misconception to say that the Jews expected a “national” or “political” messiah, whereas early Christianity centered around a “spiritual” messiah — statements frequently found in New Testament interpretation. It would thus appear that the supposedly standard Jewish ideas or expectations of the messiah are a flimsy foundation indeed from which to explain early Christian understanding of Jesus. (pp. 90-91, my emphasis)

Davidic King Not Necessarily a Son of David Continue reading “Did the Jews before Christ expect a national Messiah?”


2010-11-26

The Myth of a General Messianic Expectation in Jesus’ Time

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by Neil Godfrey

It is standard practice to classify Jewish messianism as national, ethnic, political and material, and to mark Christian messianism as universal, cosmopolitan, ethical and spiritual. That Jewish anticipation of the messiah’s arrival was unusually keen in first century Palestine and constituted the mise en scène for the emergence of Christianity is a virtual axiom of western history. (p. 1 of Judaisms and Their Messiahs, my emphasis)

But there is little, if any, evidence for this “axiom of western history”!

The opening chapter of Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, though over 20 years old, appears not to have been read or accepted among theological and other scholars who even now still argue that the generation of Jesus was possessed by expectations of a messianic deliverer. Many such scholars still argue strenuously that some of that generation reinterpreted the life, execution and post mortem psychic experiences of their renowned rabbi, Jesus, as the life, death and resurrection of the long-awaited (but spiritual) Messiah. Sometimes even professorial insults will be directed at less learned individuals who dare question, and persist in asking to be shown, the hard evidence for this model.

But professorial insults notwithstanding, William Scott Green (the author of that opening chapter) is several times quoted in relatively recent publications by the renowned Thomas L. Thompson:

These arguments [for a general Jewish expectation of the advent of a Messiah around the time of Jesus] . . . appear to suggest that the best way to learn about the messiah in ancient Judaism is to study texts in which there is none. (Green in Judaisms and Their Messiahs . . . p. 6)

Green continues: Continue reading “The Myth of a General Messianic Expectation in Jesus’ Time”


2010-11-25

The meaning of “Anointed-Messiah-Christ” in the time of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

One resolution I made to myself after leaving my experience with religion was never to embrace any argument or account of the world without checking out and testing the evidence for it. One detail I regularly read as if it were an established fact was that around the time of Jesus there was a general expectation among the Jews for a Messiah to appear to deliver them from subjugation to the Romans. I read much, and even asked a few academics specializing in New Testament and early Christian studies, but was never able to pin down a clear piece of evidence that this cultural ethos ever existed before the Jewish War that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in the year 70. I found this mystifying because even the academics I asked appeared to accept that this was the state of mind of “the Jews” generally at the time of Jesus.

The closest a number of scholars came to offering evidence was to point to books I had already read, and/or to refer me to texts such as certain Old Testament writings. I had little success when I responded by asking how we can know that OT texts dominated the minds of Jews throughout Palestine and/or the Diaspora, and in particular from around year 0 to year 30ish or so. Continue reading “The meaning of “Anointed-Messiah-Christ” in the time of Jesus”


2010-07-30

Did a Davidic Messiah have to be a descendant of David?

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by Neil Godfrey

No. At least not in the time of Bar Kochba‘s revolt against Rome, 132-136 ce.

That’s if we can trust the later rabbinic evidence that attributed certain beliefs to famous Rabbi Akiba who supported Bar Kochba’s claim to be the messiah.

(The relevance of this discussion to Christian origins lies in the context of arguments that Jesus being said, at various places, to have been of the seed of David or of Davidic descent. For starters, given modern scholarly (archaeological) understanding of the reality of “King David”, and even the “Davidic dynasty”, there was evidently no such thing as a “family of David” existing in Palestine at the time of Jesus, before and later, anyway.)

Bar Kochba’s original name was Simeon ben Kosiba. It was subsequently changed to Bar Kochba, which was Aramaic for “Son of a Star”, an allusion to the prophecy of Numbers 24:17. (This sort of name change based on a pun on the original name in order to fit a biblical prophecy is worth keeping in mind when one compares other apparent puns in names found within the gospels.)

The rabbinic passage is discussing this bible’s reference to the plural “thrones” in heaven, one for the Ancient of Days, and another, presumably, for the Son of Man (Daniel 7:9, 13-14). The passage follows on from references to a biblical contradiction where God is described as an old man (with white hair) in Daniel 7, but as a young black-headed man according to their interpretation of Song of Solomon 5:11.

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were placed, and One that was ancient of days did sit!

— There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba.

Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.

Did he accept [this explanation from him, or did he not accept it?

— Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. (Hagigah, 14a) Continue reading “Did a Davidic Messiah have to be a descendant of David?”


2010-07-29

Philo’s Spiritual Messiah: allegorical and personal?

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by Neil Godfrey

Spiritual Logos from http://web.archive.org/web/20100730211306/http://www.thelogocreator.com:80/spiritual-logos.html
Spiritual Logos from http://www.thelogocreator.com/spiritual-logos.html

Philo does not mention the term “christos” (“messiah”). But he does use a lot of messianic terminology to describe how the Logos converts people, through an inner personal war against the flesh, into the divine image. The message reminds me of Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s more detailed discussion of Paul’s concept of the Stoic-Logos-like function of the heavenly Christ in converting his followers to a “life in Christ”. (I return to this point at the end of this post.)

This post is another that attempts to “wikileak” what scholars themselves publish about the diverse nature of the ideas surrounding the origins of Christianity.

Philo allegorizes the narratives in the Jewish Scriptures: the wanderings of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, the Temple. Professor of Religious Studies at UCSB, Richard D. Hecht, asks:

Why should he take the eschatological future any more “realistically” and thereby less spiritually than other elements in this thought? (Philo and Messiah, in Judaisms and their Messiahs at the turn of the Christian Era, p.148)

Hecht points to two different interpretations of messianic tropes in Philo:

  1. Messianic terms are used as symbols for the Logos, or for how virtue is stimulated in the human soul;
  2. Philo draws on Stoic ideas to describes an end-time Golden Age, but this is again a “spiritualization” of history, not an attempt to place a messiah in a real historical context. This description also concludes with a return to his primary interest (in 1 above) by comparing this Messianic Era to a “little seed” that generates “the most honorable and beautiful qualities among men.” (On Rewards and Punishments, 172)

It is the first of these that I focus most on in this post. Hecht argues that the Messiah in Philo is, for the spiritually discerning, the Logos working in “man” to save him spiritually by transforming him into the divine character image.

In On the Confusion of Tongues Philo attributes a messianic name to the Logos itself. Continue reading “Philo’s Spiritual Messiah: allegorical and personal?”


2010-07-26

Jewish scriptures as inspiration for a Slain Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

Was it possible for Second Temple Jews to have imagined a Messiah who is unjustly killed solely by reading their Scriptures?

The Apostles in Acts are said to have preached Christ out of the Scriptures. Paul, and even other epistle writers, claim that their gospel was revealed to them through the scriptures and/or through the spirit of God — not oral tradition or personal encounters.

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him . . . (Romans 16:25-26)

the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:26)

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2)

the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:5)

and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, (Titus 1:3)

Although one often hears it said that no first-century Jews were expecting a humiliated and crucified Messiah, the evidence one can read in the Jewish Scriptures surely suggests otherwise. Given the diversity of religious ideas we are led to understand blanketed the Second Temple era, and given the nature of the few scriptural passages that specifically and literally refer to “anointing” or “anointed” (=messiah), we would be very courageous to bet that no sects had such an idea.

Look at Psalm 2.2 for starters

The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed [=Messiah]

Now the rest of the Psalm goes on to recount God laughing at those plotting rulers and assuring his Messianic Son (whom he has begotten that day) that he will give him victory over his enemies.

Nonetheless, we do have passage that presents a clear threat to the Messiah, and one from kings and rulers.

It is surely not too much of a leap for any reader familiar with these scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, to let their mind wander to other psalms where David or God’s son is promised deliverance and exaltation over his enemies, but only after first being brought face to face with death itself. One finds similar motifs within Isaiah, where the servant of God (Israel – Isa.49.3, who is also God’s son – Exod.4.22 and Hos 11.1) is humiliated, despised, struck down, only to rise again in victory over his foes – Isa. 49 ff.

In Isaiah 11 we even read that such a son is, at least figuratively, a son of David. And in Isaiah 53 we find the same word to describe the “delivering up” of the Servant to humiliation as we find in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11:23 statement that Christ was “delivered up” on the night of the Last Supper (Doherty, p. 86).

But it wasn’t all suffering and exaltation for the Messiah. Isaiah 61.1 informs readers that the one anointed (a messiah) is to preach the good news.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound

And this Isaiah passage cannot help but lead readers of this book to companion passages where one reads of the lame being healed, the blind being restored to sight, such as Isaiah 35

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,

And the tongue of the dumb sing.

And so the messiah will perform such miracles?

If we look at the career of kings who are said to have been “anointed” (messiahs) we find a similar mixed pattern.

Hazael (anointed 1 Ki 19.15) and Jehu (anointed 2 Ki 9.1-6) brought conquest and judgment upon those whom God sought to punish.

Saul (anointed 1 Sa. 9.10) also delivered Israel from her enemies for a time, but then was himself slain for his sin.

Joash of Judah (anointed 2 Ki. 1.32-45) likewise was chosen by God to save the Davidic line, but was also murdered for his subsequent sin against God’s prophet, Zechariah.

And we know the stories of David (anointed 1 Sa. 16.1, 13) and Solomon (anointed 1 Ki. 1.32-45) well enough. Both chosen by God, but both failed their God and suffered in different ways. David, in particular, had to flee from his kingdom, climbing the Mount of Olives in his own desperate straits and trusting in God for deliverance.

But these are all past human kings. If I were looking for a Messiah in the Scriptures who would be the Messiah of all Messiahs and bring in the age of God, would I not be guided by each of these, but also be open to something even greater than all that had preceded? If past messiahs broke physical kingdoms and ruled geographical areas for limited times, would not we want the final messiah to go one better and smash the powers that ruled all those kingdoms, and to take charge of them? I know, I’m jumping way ahead of the story, here.

This is only a  mind game, and we might think it’s too easy in retrospect to imagine how anyone might interpret the passages back then. But that’s why I am taking as my starting point only those passages that specifically mention the word for Messiah — the exact word that might trigger the imagination of an ancient Jew.

But how might at least some Jews have interpreted the following from Daniel? Are any at all likely to have played with its ambiguity? Continue reading “Jewish scriptures as inspiration for a Slain Messiah”


2010-06-30

Old Testament Messiahs as the Raw Material for the New Testament Christ

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by Neil Godfrey

Priest, High Priest, and Levite, illustration ...
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The idea of a holy anointed one, a messiah that is, who liberated those captive to sin through his death, who represented the pious before God, who was subject even to the wrath of God for the sin of the people, such an idea was arguably a pre-packaged concept among some Jews long before Jesus was ever thought of.

Evolution of an idea or historical reinterpretation of a crucified criminal?

Indeed, the very concept of Jesus Christ as found in Paul’s epistles could quite conceivably have evolved out of the contemplation of passages describing the roles and functions of the priests in their role as “anointed ones” (“messiahs”) in the Jewish scriptures and Sirach.

Levenson has demonstrated the similarity of the Second Temple Jewish view of the atoning death and resurrection of Isaac with the subsequent Christian a figure who atones for the sins of his people by his shed blood.

Thomas L. Thompson looks at several other passages in Jewish Scriptures that foreshadow the explicit Christian concepts of Messiah. He rejects the common (yet unargued) belief that “messiah” was a term that was applied to contemporary historical kings of Israel, noting that in every occurrence of the word in connection with an Israelite king, whether in “story or song”, it is always applied to Israel’s past. And as for “the developing transference of an historical [Messiah] — the king — to a unique and future-oriented, super-terrestrial savior, [S. Talmon] attributes to a ‘second temple period’, which culminates in an idealized figure after 70 AD.”

So what of the concept of messianism around the time Paul and other NT authors are thought to have been writing? What does an exploration of the meaning of “messiah” or “anointed one” in texts known to these authors suggest?

In this post I am focusing on just one cluster of texts out of all the ones Thompson discusses. The following from Thompson’s 2001 Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament article “The Messiah Epithet in the Hebrew Bible“. Much of it is repeated in his later book, The Messiah Myth. Continue reading “Old Testament Messiahs as the Raw Material for the New Testament Christ”


2010-02-17

James McGrath’s reply and my response

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by Neil Godfrey

James McGrath has replied to my previous post, Did Jesus exist on youtube?  His reply is here: More-Myticist-Creationist Parallels: Messiahs, Wisdom and Jesus.

Avoiding and denying what I wrote

James claims that my references to the scholarship of Neusner, Green, Fitzmyer and Mack are so well known (“common knowledge”) that I was completely misguided (in fact I was reminding him of creationists) when I supposedly tried to use these quotations to discredit the argument that Jews were unlikely to invent a crucified messiah. In fact it is James who is avoiding the issue here, not me.

James has sidestepped the point I was using those “common knowledge” citations to address. I used those quotations to remind him that there is no evidence for his claim that there was some widespread common expectation of a messiah. James had said that this Jewish belief was “well documented” for the time of Jesus. It is not well-documented. He knows this, and I know he knows the “common knowledge” citations I had to pull out to address his false claim in his video.

This was the point I was addressing. And James used this particular point — that there was a widespread expectation in the time of Jesus of a Davidic messiah — as the sole support of  his assertion that no Jew would invent a crucified messiah.

So when James says my citations are “beside the point” as far as his argument goes, he is ignoring what I wrote and what he argued himself in the video. I used the citations to address the very point he made to justify his assertion.

When arguing for the historical Jesus, it is quite common to see such superficial and false claims being bandied about without thought. I know very well that scholars would never use such standard of argumentation in a scholarly paper. But they seem to think any slapdash mantra will do for lay audiences — and it will certainly do for those who argue a position for which they cannot disguise their visceral contempt.

Presumably such slapdash “arguments” are meant to address the less well informed audiences, or even peers who share a similar disdain for the opposing argument. The practice suggests an impatience on the part of the historicists with the thought of bothering to prepare any serious case.

Still no evidence

I asked James for evidence of such a widespread Jewish belief in a Davidic type messiah around the time of Jesus. Here is the closest he got to that evidence in his reply:

We have evidence for such “messianic” beliefs in the Judaism of this period, and conversely, we have no evidence whatsoever from pre-Christian Judaism for the view that the restored Davidic king would die at the hands of his enemies.

The closest one can find is perhaps the reference in Daniel’s pseudo-prophecy to the anointed high priest Onias being killed (Daniel 9:26)

He simply repeats his bald claim that we have evidence for this belief in this period (of Jesus), and cites not a bit of it.

James also misrepresents, to the point of caricature, the mythicist argument. No mythicist case that I know argues that “a restored Davidic king” would die at the hands of his enemies. James avoids completely my point that the early Christians boasted a greater than the mere physical Davidic king — they boasted a messiah who had conquered the world of demonic powers and death itself.

Like a creationist, again

James then accuses me of being like a creationist because I was guilty of what I was accusing others when I said Paul claimed Jesus was a God. Firstly, James seems to be just making up accusations against me. I nowhere have said that, although James has himself repeatedly said I believe this. I do not recall ever saying this, and always thought I was careful to qualify my statements about Paul’s beliefs, by using such terminology as “son of God” or “divinity”.

It seems James is so eager to throw insulting labels at me that he resorts to accusing me of whatever he simply just assumes to know I think or claim. He did not quote me. (The discussion to which he was referring is here.)

So on this basis James accused me of being a pot calling the kettle black, and therefore I was like a “creationist”. James seems to have more skill with how he uses his words than he does with actually basing his arguments on evidence.

Still no evidence

My initial request to James for evidence was for him to support his claim that the earliest evidence we have of Christian belief was that Jesus was a man, and that the divinity side was only gradually attached later.

James’ response? 

He finds fault with me for adopting “a minority view”. Well, yes, I guess I do. Presumably he would rather there be no minority views to contend with. Damn gnats.

If minorities go with the evidence that suggests earliest Christians viewed Jesus as a divine being, a divinity (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinity if you think that means the later Christian developed view of God, as James says I am guilty and “like a creationist” for claiming) and can find no evidence to the contrary, then so be it. If majorities represented by James are content to maintain a belief without evidence, then so be it.

But this is not quite fair. James does cite Colossians where it speaks of Jesus as one in whom the godhead “BODILY” dwells. Um, yes, ….. and so Jesus has a flesh and blood and guts human body in heaven where he now dwells with the godhead indwelling him fully? Do I have to remind James of the mainstream scholar’s book, The Resurrection Reconsidered, by Gregory Riley, that demonstrates that “body” could as easily mean a spirit as flesh?

But I know he knows that. So I have to wonder at James’ motives or whatever for even attempting to suggest that this passage is approaching the evidence I requested.

Interesting discussion on Wisdom

James raises a series of interesting questions on the place of Wisdom in Second Temple Jewish thought. I am interested because it is something I have been reading about for quite some time and look forward to discussing in a future post.

One final hit at yet another poor straw man

Finally James claims (again, — despite my pointing out to him the baselessness of his claim — but perhaps he never saw my replies on his blog) James claims once again that some mythicists “seem” to argue (thankfully he is a little more nuanced now) that X does not exist because it is described in terms of non-X. This is, of course, a caricature of a very sound argument that historicists seem incapable of dealing with, and James does play with it as a caricature.

He fails to deal with actual argument: that after we strip away all the mythological associations from other known historical figures, we see plenty of historical figure left. Take away the mythical associations (including OT descriptions) of Jesus, and we are left with the invisible man after his bandages are removed.

Insults continue to replace evidence and argument

Okay, maybe insults are all too common within the guild. But surely public intellectuals do have a responsibility to set a higher standard for their publics.

James fails to supply the evidence I asked him for in order to support two claims of his:

  1. that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was human and that divine attributes were only attributed to him later;
  2. and that there is evidence for a general Jewish expectation of the coming of a Davidic Messiah in the time of Jesus.

He has not provided any evidence for either claim.

He has chosen instead to compare me with a creationist.

Presumably he finds the latter course the easier option.

I thought it was creationists who were the ones prepared to shut down debate by arguing in defiance of the evidence, and at the same time misrepresenting the claims of their opponents.


2010-02-16

Did Jesus exist on youtube? Dismantling the “evidence” presented by James McGrath

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by Neil Godfrey

21:20 Feb 16, Edited to add a quote from Mack in a book, edited by Neusner and others . . .

The following is presented by Dr James McGrath on his Did Jesus Exist Youtube video as fundamental evidence for the historical existence of Jesus. It is a standard line, almost a “historicists’ creed”, and it is factually false and and logically fallacious.

The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . .  It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented. And the whole notion of messiah is “anointed one” . . . . and this goes back to the practice of anointing kings and priests in ancient Israel. And in the case of Jesus the connection of the terminology of the term messiah with the claim to his having been descended from David shows they were thinking of a kingly figure. And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected. Not only did he not conquer the Romans, he was executed by them. He did not institute and bring in the kingdom of god the way the people were expecting, and in fact Christians had to explain this in terms of Jesus returning to finish the task of what was expected of the messiah.

All of this makes much more sense if one says that there was a figure whom the early Christians believed was the messiah and that the early Christians were trying somehow to make sense of those things that don’t seem to fit that belief.

To dismantle this:

The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . .  It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented.

Well documented?

McGrath needs this to be true, since this central argument for historicity of Jesus depends on the Jews generally and deeply holding in a belief of an expectant messiah who was to rule as a new David. So what is the documentation that is apparently so abundant that it can be casually alluded to with a passing comment?

I have addressed the so-called “evidence” — and its complete absence — for such a belief at the time of Jesus in recent posts here and here. (Matthew’s gospel birth narrative is even structured on the assumption that there was no such general belief at that time.)

So it’s time for something a bit different. This time, from William Scott Green in the opening chapter of Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, edited by Neusner, Green and Frerichs (1987).

The term “messiah” has scant and inconsistent use in early Jewish texts. . . .

The disparate uses . . .  offer little evidence of sustained thought or evolving Judaic reflection about the messiah. . . . . the term is notable primarily for its indeterminacy.

In view of these facts, one may legitimately wonder about the reasons for conceiving “the messiah” as a fundamental and generative component of both Israelite religion and early Judaism. One may wonder about the justification for the assertion that “from the first century B.C.E., the Messiah was the central figure in the Jewish myth of the future,” . . . . or for the widespread assumption that “In the time of Jesus the Jews were awaiting a Messiah.” One may wonder, in other words, how so much has come to be written about an allegedly Jewish conception in with so many ancient Jewish texts manifest such little interest. (pp. 2-4)

And there is another comment on this so-called “well documented” evidence for the expectation of a Davidic messiah at the time of Jesus. This one from chapter two in the same book, authored by Burton L. Mack:

Jacob Neusner has challenged a long tradition of scholarship by the addition of a single letter to the magical word messiah. Messiahs it now is. And the singular notion of “the” messiah is disclosed for what it always has been — a scholarly assumption generated by the desire to clarify Christian origins. (p. 15)

Should we not expect doctors who make definitive statements for the general public, and in an area of their speciality, to speak with an authority based on evidence and knowledge? Why are the public told in this video that a certain idea important for making the historicist case is “well documented”? Can any academic specialist in the area detail the evidence that Neusner, Mack and Green (and Fitzmyer from an earlier discussion here) have all missed?

Back to McGrath’s historicist case:

And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected

Just one detail missing here. Only one. (Recently at work we had to laugh when we were trying to rationalize performance statistics, and in the process discovered a typo — someone had accidentally omitted a “1” that should have been included at the beginning of a 5 digit number. 19,500 should have been 119,500. I joke that we were only out by “1” — a mere detail.)

But James has effectively removed this one from the discussion by his preliminary remarks about the resurrection. The resurrection, being a supernatural event, is said to be off-limits from naturalistic historical enquiry. But historians can talk about the crucifixion.

This is how the presumption of historicism is made to prove itself. But the fact is that the early Christians spoke of the death and resurrection of Jesus; it was a two-sided singular event with the resurrection making sense of – being the very reason for – the crucifixion.

The historicist attempt to take this belief apart to understand it does not throw light on this belief. It’s like Douglas Adam‘s attempt to understand how a cat works by taking it apart — the first thing he has is a nonworking cat.

The obvious flaw in this argument (that no-one would have made up from scratch the idea of a messiah who had been crucified) is that the belief was NOT that a messiah had been crucified, but that a messiah had overcome crucifixion by the resurrection. The messiah did not do what the so-called Jewish messiah was supposedly expected to do, true. The Christian messiah did even greater things than the Jewish “Davidic” messiah! Jesus was greater than Moses, Elijah, Solomon and David. The Christian messiah conquered the spiritual kingdoms that ruled this world. This was a principle message of the first gospel, Mark. It’s hardly a negative concept. The idea of a greater spiritual realm and activity that surpassed and paled the hopes of the mere physical was nothing novel.

Scholars have written of the socio-psychological dynamics that may underlie the story of the possession of man by “Legion” (a demonic Roman army) and how Jesus cast Legion out and into suicidal pigs, an emblem of the 10th Legion occupying Palestine.

We know the attraction that paradoxes had among ancient philosophers and religious ideas. We also know the theme of paradoxical reversal was deeply embedded in the thought of the texts of the Hebrew scriptures. Mark’s gospel itself is riddled with such riddles and paradoxes. The blind see. The called flee. Food in abundance comes from a lack of food in a wilderness. Those who know Jesus best are the ones who fail to recognize him. Forsaking the world is the way to inherit the world. Death is the way to life. It was the same throughout Jewish religious narratives. The prisoners doomed to die are the one exalted to rule the kingdoms. The suffering servant Israel is destined to be the light to all nations. The cast out are the most beloved. The destruction of the physical temple is the way to the advent of the spiritual temple.

And the way to rulership and conquest is through death and suffering. It is an inevitable paradox that gave comfort to Jewish martyrs ever since the time of the Maccabean wars. The way to life was through death. God would exalt those whom the world abased. Have discussed this in some detail here.

The idea of a divinity with whom one could identify in the face of cruel losses and lacks in this world, and who had overcome death and suffering, and all the evil of this world, must have been one of the easiest sells. The idea that it must have been “hard” to sell is derived, I think, from the apologetic paradigm that attempts to “prove” the truth of its gospel message.

Such paradoxical reversals were a comfort to people without hope in this life. They were far from being stumbling blocks. They were gateways to hope. They were always the hope of martyrs from pre-Christian times.

There is no evidence at all that the earliest Christians were struggling to make sense of the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus first appears in the evidence as a fully formed and sensible part of the message of the resurrection overcoming death.

Historicist arguments fail to deal with this evidence. By taking it apart, pulling it apart to the extend that it is no longer the recognizable belief or evidence calling for explanation, the historicist argument is trying to make sense of a non-working cat.

The mythicist argument has the advantage of advancing the more probable or likely scenario that explains the evidence as it is, that deals with the earliest Christian belief for which we have evidence, and without destroying this evidence to make sense of it.

I titled this post, “dismantling the evidence of James McGrath”. It is McGrath who has dismantled the evidence we have of earliest Christian belief to deal with something quite unlike any early Christian belief for which we have evidence.

(to be continued . . . . )


James McGrath has also asserted that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus was a man and not a divinity. I have yet to see evidence for this, too.



2010-01-28

Response (2): the Bethlehem-Nazareth fallacies

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by Neil Godfrey

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nazareth_COA.png

Continued from Responding to standard arguments for Jesus’ historicity (1)

.
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(ii) he was from Nazareth

. . . . Not only is the fact that he was from Nazareth a feature of all versions of the stories but Nazareth itself appears, with Jesus being scorned and rejected there. This was clearly a problem for the gospel writers, because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah was going to come from Bethlehem. So the writers of Matthew and Luke both tell stories to “explain” how a man who was known to be and who was depicted as being from Nazareth could actually have been born in Bethlehem. The problem is (i) their stories are riddled with historical problems that show they are inventions and (ii) they don’t just totally contradict each other, they are set ten years apart and are mutually exclusive.

Again, this all makes perfect sense if he did exist and he was from Nazareth. They would need to “explain” how someone from a tiny, insignificant village in Galilee could actually have fulfilled the prophecy about Bethlehem. But it makes no sense at all if he was an invention or myth. If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all? The only logical explanation is that it’s there because that is where he was from.

Coached witnesses are not multiple witnesses

Also featuring in “all versions of the stories” is the ability of Jesus to produce 12 baskets of food scraps after feeding 5000 with a few fish and loaves; and a resurrected person leaving a tomb. So we can see the relevance of a “fact” appearing in all four gospels. Even though scholars are very aware of at least Matthew and Luke being dependent on Mark as a source, and some also believe John to be derivative from Mark, too, they are not beyond the tendentious assertion that this or that detail is found in “all four witnesses”.

(But there is in fact reason to doubt that Nazareth does appear in all gospels, at least in their original versions. Nazareth is found in only one verse in Mark’s gospel. The Gospel of Matthew copies most of the text of the Gospel of Mark, sometimes adding new material to it. The author of Matthew’s gospel also copied Mark’s scene of Jesus coming to be baptized by John. However, the word “Nazareth” in Mark’s gospel does not appear in the copied verse of Matthew’s gospel. This suggests it was not there in the version of Mark’s gospel that was known to the author of Matthew’s.)

Self-testimony can never be enough

A narrative cannot testify to its own historicity. External controls are always needed. No-one can pick up a story and, without any idea of its context, decide if it is a true tale or not. The mere fact that a story has a coherent plot is no more a verification of its historicity than if it is told less coherently.

To accept as “true” any document or text on the basis of its self-testimony alone, without any reference to external context, is simply naive. Valid historical method does not work that way.

Awkward facts or circular reasoning?

It is said that Nazareth is one element in the gospel narrative that is “clearly awkward for the gospel writers”. I don’t see any awkwardness about its mention at all. It seems no more awkward than the mention of any other place: Capernaum, where Jesus preached; Bethany, where Jesus stayed by night while preaching in Jerusalem by day; Tyre, when he left Galilee altogether at one point. The awkwardness seems to be in the minds of modern readers who seem to be able to read the minds of the ancient authors and psychically see them somehow struggling over how to write about this particular place. Or maybe it is simply a matter of plain old circular reasoning: awkwardness in the narrative is presumed because we “know” in advance it was an awkward matter facing the authors.

I am sure most lay Christians would be surprised to learn that their beloved nativity stories had “problems” with these two places. They are anchors of a beautiful and dramatic simple story told and reenacted every Christmas.

The awkwardness is seen by the apparent “fact” that Nazareth does not fit the Jewish expectation that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem. There is simply no evidence that there ever was such an expectation. Yet there is evidence against it.  This “fact” is nothing more than a backward projection by later Christians.

The myth of the general Jewish messianic expectation

In my earlier post I cited discussions in Fitzmyer and Thompson (historians of the Messiah concept at this time) and noted their lack of support for the common assertion that Jews were generally expecting a Messiah at this time, least of all one from Bethlehem. Yes, I have read Horsley’s bandits etc. and the rest. We can cheat a bit and superimpose messianic notions on some of these, but not one has the slightest hint of a whisper about a “general expectation”, let alone a Bethlehem birth.

The narrative contradicts this common assumption

The author of Matthew’s gospel writes a narrative that contradicts the assumption that there was any such Jewish expectation. The wise men were not very wise or knowledgeable at all if they were not aware of what every Jew was supposed to have believed — that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. In Matthew’s narrative they have to go to the royal court to ask the King to consult the wisest of the wise to decipher and deliver this information. Not even the King of the Jews, Herod, knew of it.

And his Jewish attendants didn’t stop to tell him not to bother the priests, because everyone in town knew the answer to that one. Word got around that the magi were looking for a baby messiah and “all Jerusalem was troubled”. They didn’t all flock to Bethlehem, as would have been expected had they all expected that would be the place of the Messiah’s birth.

Herod had to ask his wise men to find the answer. It could hardly, then, be said to have been an expectation in the heart of every Jew.

Matt.2:1-4

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

Of course this has all the ring of a fairy story. But if we are to interpret this as some late development of a historical core, then we are reading how astrologers are unable to learn from general public knowledge about the place of the Messiah’s birth, and how they must resort to a special audience with the king. What’s more, we then read that that King had to shrug his shoulders and say he hadn’t a clue. He had to call in his wise men and pose the question to them.

The so-called prophecy in Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was invented by the author of Matthew’s gospel to fit his narrative. The original passage in Micah 5:2 certainly meant no such thing to its original Jewish audience. It refers, rather, to a clan or individual named Bethlehem, a son of Ephratha. (1 Chron 4:4). It is one of many similar prophecies about a future Davidic king coming from the tribe of Judah (c.f. 1 Sam.17:12).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bethlehem_street_1880.jpg

So rather than being perplexed over how to reconcile apparent facts with beliefs, the author of Matthew’s gospel actually manufactured the “belief” that was supposed to have caused him so much difficulty!

The gospel of Matthew’s author himself was the one who twisted the meaning of a verse that originally referred to personal or clan names and forced it to mean, instead, the town of Bethlehem. He wanted from the beginning to create a Bethlehem story. He was not “forced into it” so that he then had somehow to struggle to reconcile it with his Nazareth account.

Literary contortions or routine visions and travels?

It is also usually claimed that the authors of Matthew and Luke go to contorted or contrived lengths in their narratives to find ways to get Jesus from a birth in Bethlehem to his hometown in Nazareth. Again, I find such a claim to be without any foundation at all. Both authors use the simple and easy techniques used throughout the Old Testament narratives. It was never a problem for God to get Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or the millions of the tribes of Israel in Sinai from one place to another. Tossing in visions, dreams, sending a plague or curse of some kind in one place, and offering a carrot somewhere else — all these techniques were familiar enough and are repeated routinely in the Matthew and Luke narratives that move Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Awkwardness again? Not at all.

If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all? The only logical explanation is . . . .

Continue reading “Response (2): the Bethlehem-Nazareth fallacies”


2010-01-26

Responding to standard arguments for Jesus’ historicity (1)

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by Neil Godfrey

edited and added TLT quote Jan 26, 2010 @ 20:05 

I think of myself as neither a “Jesus mythicist” nor a “Jesus historicist”, but as someone interested in exploring the origins of Christianity. Whether the evidence establishes a historical Jesus at its core, or an entity less tangible, then so be it. Nonetheless, I cannot deny the importance and implications of the question.

Two things that bug me about much of the historicist position are:

  1. many of its interpretations of the evidence are grounded in circular reasoning
  2. many of its arguments are rhetorical and/or built on the fallacy of incredulity (aka “the divine fallacy“)

There are things that bug me about some mythicist arguments, too. But here I want to share the first of a series of responses I am making against the historicist position as summed up by a contributor on a Richard Dawkins website discussion forum.

In summary:

(i) [Jesus] existed

The idea that the stories about him are based on a historical figure is the most parsimonious explanation of how they arose, since the alternatives require repeated suppositions to explain away key elements in the evidence (eg all those “maybes” required to make references to his brother etc disappear).

This would be true IF the earliest evidence is for a more human Jesus, with the later evidence demonstrating an emerging divinization of this person until he eventually reaches co-creator and sustainer of the universe god status.

But the evidence we do have is actually the reverse of the above. The earliest evidence — such as an early hymn quoted by Paul (Phil. 2) — describes Jesus as equal with God, who had a brief temporary transformation to look like a human in order to be killed to effect a theological saving destiny for humankind, and was restored to the highest God-status and given the new name of Jesus, and worshiped by all as a reward.

. . . . Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Paul’s Jesus as referenced in the rest of his letters hews to the same identity. Jesus for Paul is the Spirit and Wisdom of God, a God-head figure of worship, whose exalted heavenly status is the honour bestowed on him for his descent into at least some form of flesh for the purpose of crucifixion.

It is the later evidence (among the gospels) that seeks to humanize Jesus. In Mark, he is said to become possessed by the Son of God spirit, lose his temper and need a couple of shots at healing a blind man. In Luke and Acts, his death is described as that of a merely righteous human martyr. A later copyist even added a scene with him sweating blood.

The most parsimonious way to describe this trajectory of the actual evidence is to see Jesus as beginning his history as a heavenly figure whose temporary appearance in the form of a man became the subject of later elaborations.

He is mentioned by Josephus twice and by Tacitus once and the arguments required to make these clear references in two independent sources disappear require, once again, a small hill of suppositions and contrived arguments.

On the contrary, the contrived arguments are those that have emerged since the Second World War when many things changed. Prior to that time the scholarly consensus — a consensus that included names like Albert Schweitzer and Walter Bauer — was that these texts are worthless as testimony for the historicity of Jesus. So to accuse anyone who dismisses the value of the Josephus evidence of resorting to “contrived arguments” is to insult some of the greatest names in the history of biblical scholarship.

Sometimes intellectual changes reflect broader cultural developments, and this seems to be one case in point. It appears to coincide with the shift in scholarly consensus to exonerate or excuse Judas, and other scholarly research designed to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus. Western guilt over past anti-semitism has been proposed as one explanation for some of these scholarly shifts. I suspect something similar at work in finding ways to bring the Jewish historian Josephus and Jesus together.

The stories about him contain elements which are clearly awkward for the gospel writers (his origin in Nazareth, his baptism, his execution) and which they try, largely unsuccessfully, to explain away or which they downplay or remove. These elements are awkward because they don’t fit the expectations of who and what the Messiah was, yet they remain in the story.

Apart from the subjectivity of deciding if a narrative detail is “clearly awkward”, this argument rests on a false premise.

The fact is that there is no evidence for some general expectation among Jews for any particular type of Messiah at all in the period discussed.

In a review of the most detailed discussions of the idea of the Messiah among Jews of the Second Temple period, The One Who Is to Come by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Jeffrey L. Staley writes:

There is no serious attempt to place messianism within the broader matrix of social history. There is no interaction with, say, Richard Horsley or John Dominic Crossan’s work on social banditry and peasant movements (Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus; The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant). One might then ask of Fitzmyer what communities he thinks are reflected in his textual study. If, as many have suggested, only 5 percent of the ancient Mediterranean population could read and write, then what segment of the population is reflected in Fitzmyer’s analysis? Is his “history of an idea” representative of Jewish belief at large, or does it represent only a small segment of the population? Does Fitzmyer’s study of the “history of an idea” reflect only the elites’ mental peregrinations, which are largely unrelated to the general masses? And what difference, if any, would his answer to this question make to this “history of an idea”?

Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth, has discussed in detail the literary nature of this messianic ideal (a literary construct that extends beyond a Jewish literate class, and stretches across cultural and ethnic groupings from Egypt to Mesopotamia), and finds no correlation of it among popular Jewish culture before the second century c.e.:

Nevertheless, to make an argument that a specific theme belongs to the earliest sources of the gospels is not sufficient to associate it with history. The interrelated themes that have brought Weiss and Schweitzer — and the scholarship following them — to speak of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet do not reflect religious movements of the first century BCE. The thematic elements of a divinely destined era of salvation, a messianic fullness of time and a day of judgment bringing about a transformation of the world from a time of suffering to the joys of the kingdom are all primary elements of a coherent, identifiable literary tradition, centuries earlier than the gospels, well-known to us from the Bible and texts throughout the entire Near East. (p. 28)

There may also be some relevance here in Jon D. Levenson’s case that at least some not insignificant number of Jews in the Second Temple period coming to embrace a theology involving salvation through an atoning sacrifice of Isaac, as I have discussed in posts archived here.

This makes perfect sense if the gospel writers are trying to make a historical figure fit the Messianic expectations and some elements in his story simply don’t fit well. But it makes no sense at all if they are making him up or his story simply arose out of the expectations. If that were the case his story would fit the expectations very neatly and these awkward elements wouldn’t exist.

This is a repeat of the standard argument among the biblical studies faculties to establish the historicity of everything from the baptism of Jesus to his resurrection. The logical structure of the argument is elsewhere described as “the divine fallacy”. More formally it is listed among other fallacies as the fallacy of (personal) incredulity.”

N.T. Wright and other mainstream academics join with apologists in using this logic to prove the historicity of the resurrection on the basis that the “embarrassing” and “uncomfortable” and “awkward” fact is that mere untrustworthy women were the first witnesses.

To paraphrase the way it goes:

This makes perfect sense if the gospel writers are trying to speak honestly about the historical resurrection of Jesus and some elements in their story simply don’t fit well.

It makes no sense at all if the gospel writers are trying to make up a story about the resurrection.

If that were the case, they would never have said women were the first witnesses.

Everyone knew that women’s testimony was worthless in those days.

So it makes perfect sense if the gospel writers were writing about a historical event.

Others use the same logical fallacy to prove God, or creation science, or psychic powers:

How else can you explain this of that fact?

God/creationism/the tooth fairy are the only explanations that make sense of the evidence!

No other explanation makes any sense!

That such fallacious reasoning underpins so much of historical Jesus studies seems to escape notice surely can only be explained in the context of its cultural familiarity. (Trying to avoid slipping into the same fallacy here.  :-/  )

(The original context of the summary cited here, by Tim O’Neill, can be found here.)

 

“F” is for “False Dilemma”
Image by BinJabreel (Is on Hiatus) via Flickr

(The original context of the summary cited here, by Tim O’Neill, can be found here.)


2008-06-06

Could Jews never have imagined a crucified Messiah?

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by Neil Godfrey

This question is often enough presented rhetorically in one form or another as if to settle the question of the historicity of a Jesus whose presence was so inspiring that his followers continued to exalt his status after his death into a divine messiah status. It would be inconceivable that anyone would have completely made up such a story as a crucified messiah, the assertion goes.

I disagree.

If the Jews of the Second Temple period could imagine . . .

  1. their father Isaac saving their nation by his blood,
  2. by offering himself as a willing sacrifice that atoned for the sins of his descendants;
  3. and if they could identify with him as the archtypical martyr so that they could also face death, with hope of a resurrection;
  4. and if their historical narratives spoke of other favoured and beloved only sons, also fated for real or symbolic deaths,

— who were disbelieved and betrayed by their own brethren,

— but only as part of a divine plan to bring them through humiliation into exaltation and authority

. . . if Second Temple Jews (who were by no means as monolithic as they became in rabbinical times) could construct such a saving theology of Isaac and the Beloved Son, then some of them were definitely not far removed from a crucified messiah concept at all.

Not only do we have a plausible matrix for the Jesus theology, but even for the narrative of the blind and failing disciples who from the first gospel accompanied it.

Continue reading “Could Jews never have imagined a crucified Messiah?”