2010-12-16

How the Faithful Destroy Biblical Stories to Stay Faithful (or the Ecumenical Method of Biblical Historiography)

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by Neil Godfrey

Some call it “harmonization of the Gospels”, but it might also be described as a unique brand of theological historical method. That is, something that theological students do and call “history” so they can sound more like historians (a relatively relevant profession) instead of mere students of theology (a decidedly irrelevant one).

Here’s how it works.

One gospel describes a scene in order to illustrate a certain doctrinal teaching.

Another gospel, with a different doctrinal interest, describes a contrary scene to reflect another doctrine.

The historian (sorry, the theology student) enters and says: Ah, here the historical evidence appears to be contradictory. (Only “appears” contradictory, mind you. Aspiring theologians know that whatever can be seen is not of faith, and it is faith that is all important.)

So the (irrelevant) “theologian” who thinks he/she is a (relatively relevant) “historian” draws on their ecumenical leanings and finds a way to unify the two contradictory (oops, “apparently” contradictory) narratives.

This process is not a mere intellectual conceit. It is a necessary activity for those who need something consistent to believe in.

Here’s a case study to illustrate. It is from Tom Powers’ discussion of the ‘Alexander son of Simon’ ossuary. Continue reading “How the Faithful Destroy Biblical Stories to Stay Faithful (or the Ecumenical Method of Biblical Historiography)”


2007-03-25

Best explanation I’ve read yet re Alexander and Rufus

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by Neil Godfrey

JakeJonesIV on the iidb discussion group has offered the most coherent and contextualized explanation of the identity of Alexander and Rufus I’ve heard yet. Check out his posts 4292918 and 4291566. The explanation relates to Robert Price’s comment in his Pre-Nicene New Testament suggesting the possibility that Simon Magus is the figure behind Simon of Cyrene.


2007-02-14

Simon of Cyrene & Golgotha (Tarazi)

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by Neil Godfrey

Hoo boy, looks like Simon of Cyrene is as mutable as Proteas, and like the man in the raincoat at the funeral in James Joyce’s Ulysses — not to mention the young man fleeing naked in Mark (Kermode), with no end of attributable meanings.

Paul Naradin Tarazi in Paul and Mark sees a play between the Greek words for Cyrene and two other words, one of which is Gologotha (this seems so obvious when he points it out I suspect he’s not the first to notice this — but someone please correct me if I’m wrong).

“Of Cyrene/a Cyrenian” is the Greek Kyrenaios. Tarazi links this with the Hebrew qeren meaning horn, connoting power and leadership, including that of a messiah, and cites a string of verses from 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentation, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Tarazi sees in this the author of Mark calling on the apostle Peter (Simon) to accept the Pauline gospel of the cross in order to become the new leader of the true Christian community, the Pauline gentile churches. While I find the symbolic meanings and puns of interest in what I see as primarily a work of literature I have some problems with Tarazi’s interpretation here. Elsewhere in this commentary Tarazi sees Peter rejecting Paul’s theology. Tarazi writes that the fact that Simon here was “compelled” to carry the cross allows for the difference here. (I’m tempted to dismiss the Hebrew pun in a Greek text for a non-Jewish audience, but there are other places in this gospel where there seem to be rather telling links between the Aramaic and Greek and will have to shelve this question for a future “to look at” date.)

But there is another pun or consonant play. Golgotha, where the crucifixion with Simon’s cross takes place, is translated in Mark as “the place of the skull” — kraniou topos.

Now that one looks interesting. That is surely an intentional link (in adjacent verses) being pushed before the readers in the form of an explanatory note. Kyrenaios – kraniou.

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon Kyrenaios, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross. And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, kraniou topos. (Mark 15:21-22)

Okay Michael Turton, where are you when we need you? You once had much to write about Golgotha being some sort of metaphor for the Roman Capitol (Head/Skull).

One can also see Schmidt’s article online that I understand was initially responsible for seeing Mark’s crucifixion procession as a mock Roman Triumph culminating at the Temple on the Roman Capitol.

I have in another post here suggested that Simon of Cyrene was described by Mark as “coming from the country” in order to more directly link him with the role of executioner in that triumph.


2007-01-13

Simon of Cyrene & Simon Magus — revised (24th jan 07)

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by Neil Godfrey

I doubt it is possible to ever know the origins of Christianity. Another little intriguing “mystery” is the potential identification at some point of Simon of Cyrene and Simon Magus.

Irenaeus informs readers that Simon Magus taught that he had appeared in Judea and appeared to suffer crucifixion. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

Simon Magus first spoke of a “putative passion of Christ and blasphemously asserted that it was really he, Simon himself, who underwent these apparent sufferings. “As the angels governed this world badly because each angel coveted the principality for himself he [Simon] came to improve matters, and was transfigured and rendered like unto the Virtues and Powers and Angels, so that he appeared amongst men as man though he was no man and was believed to have suffered in Judea though he had not suffered” (passum in Judea putatum cum non esset passus — Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, xxiii sqq.)

Irenaeus also informs readers that some Christians taught that it was Simon of Cyrene who in fact suffered crucifixion in Christ’s stead. Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

According to Basilides, Christ seemed to men to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ, who suffered but Simon of Cyrenes who was constrained to carry the cross and was mistakenly crucified in Christ’s stead. Simon having received Jesus’ form, Jesus returned Simon’s and thus stood by and laughed. Simon was crucified and Jesus returned to his father (Irenaeus, Adv. Char., 1, xxiv).

Robert Price in The Pre-Nicene New Testament observes that:

  • Simon of Cyrene was Phoenician
  • Simon Magus was from Gitta (=Gath, Goliath’s hometown) of Phoenicia (0r Samaria)
  • Phoenicia was called Kittim (easily confused with Gitta)
  • The synoptic gospels narrate that Simon of Cyrene carried Christ’s cross

The Gospel of Mark is often ambiguous in its narration and its account of who it was who was crucified is no less so to the attentive reader:

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross. And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but he did not take it. And when they crucified him . . . . (Mark 15:21-24)

The Gospel of John of course removes any room for ambiguity by insisting that Jesus carries his own cross! (19.17)


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2006-11-26

A Cyrenius-Cyrenian link between Josephus and Mark?

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by Neil Godfrey

It is not hard to see curious shifting reflections between the lead characters in Josephus and the Gospel of Mark. Judas first, then Simon with James and Simon with John are Jewish rebel leaders and Alexander and Rufus are two Romans responsible for their executions (though John is apparently spared). In Mark we have Judas, Simon Peter, James and John as leaders and Alexander and Rufus named as identifiers of the one pressganged into the execution of their leader. (And the one executed in place of that leader was anciently believed by at least one form of Christianity, and by modern deconstructionists, the author of Mark himself being characteristically ambiguous, to be Simon himself.)

But is there another name also shiftingly reflected between Josephus and Mark that has not yet been remarked on?

“The sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius (Quirinius in Luke 2:2) came to take account of the estates of the Jews, as we have shown in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.” (Josephus, Ant. 20.5.2, Whiston trans.) Continue reading “A Cyrenius-Cyrenian link between Josephus and Mark?”