In a recent post I wrote that the Jews in Mesopotamia who were responsible for the Babylonian Talmud would quite likely have had very little contact with the Christianity Westerners are familiar with. An interesting book that gives us a glimpse into the sorts of Christianities these rabbis probably knew is The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, by Philip Jenkins. But be warned. If you pick it up for snippets of references to that question you risk being drawn into a far more engrossing narrative than you anticipated about the shining lights of civilization in the east at the time all we Westerners know from our schooling is a Dark Age.
On the question of the Christianity that was known to the Jews behind the Babylonian Talmud, what I learned from this book is
- the Christianity of the Mesopotamian region was more directly linked historically and linguistically to the earliest Syrian forms of Christianity — with its focus on Thomas and mysticism; they were also known as Nazarenes and called Jesus “Yeshua”;
- when the Christianity became the ruling religion in the West (4th century) Christians in the Persian kingdom were initially persecuted because they were considered potential fifth columnists;
- but as the Western authorities sought religious unity by imposing strictures against “heretical” views, those “heretical” forms of Christianity found a refuge in the Persian dominated East.
The Jews who may have been responsible for those Yeshu and “Nazarene” references in the Babylonian Talmud almost certainly relied upon these Eastern/Syrian Christians who were outcasts from the West for their information about Christianity. (Jenkins does not discuss the relationship of these Christians to the Babylonian Talmud — I am only putting my two plus two together after reading the first few chapters of Jenkins’ book.)
Some excerpts of relevance to this question and that I found interesting follow. All the highlighting in the passages is my own. I have linked to names and terms that may not be so familiar to many of us. (more…)
I liked this novel better than Couchoud's "Divisions" chapter. I suspect it gives some more realistic aspects of these early Christian years.
Unfortunately this is not my favourite chapter in Couchoud’s book The Creation Of Christ. But I’ve set myself a target and I have to get through this one to finish the book, so here goes. (The series is archived here.) (I personally suspect the stories in Acts are inspired more by Old Testament and Classical analogues than historical reminiscences, and motivated more by anti-Marcionite/pro-Catholic interests than disinterested archival dedication — though not totally bereft of historical re-writing at points here and there, but this post is for Couchoud so I’ll get out of the way for now. Except to say I believe Earl Doherty’s model is a much more satisfactory explanation for the “riotous diversity” that characterized what emerged as “earliest Christianity”.)
But one point in C’s favour is his attempt to synchronize what he reads in Paul and Acts with political events in the broader empire.
Once again any emphases etc in the quotations is my own.
Couchoud says the apparitions of the Lord Jesus can be dated (via the writings of Paul) to the beginning of the reign of the reputedly “mad” Roman emperor Caligula — 37-38 c.e.
These visions, he continues, all occurred in Palestine. Paul’s was the exception — and it was subject to doubt among his critics. (The last of the visions, according to Paul — says C — is to be dated 14 years before his own journey to Jerusalem, i.e. around 51 – 52 c.e.)
Of these visionary experiences, Couchoud suggests they conferred on the Jerusalem pillars a unique status:
They conferred on the community at Jerusalem and on its chiefs, Kephas, James, the Twelve, an unequalled title and right to decide all that might be postulated in the name of the Lord Jesus.
We know the names of some of these earliest visionaries: (more…)
Noah, the first Natsarene?
René Salm has shared his findings on the historical roots of the term we know as Nazarene. The pdf file, The Natsarene and hidden gnosis, is available on the mythicist resources webpage.
This is from the forward of the 20 page article:
This lengthy Addendum follows the third installment (Chapters 3–4) of my translation from the German of Ditlef Nielsen’s book, The Old Arabian Moon Religion and the Mosaic Tradition (1904). . . . [That book] explores a number of still novel themes which are foundational to my thought, such as: the influence of North Arabian religion on early Israelite origins, and in turn on Christianity; the gnostic nature of the religion of Midian, where Moses allegedly sojourned and learned from Jethro; and the gnostic character of the most ancient Israelite religion.
. . . . In the Addendum, I show that these terms [Nazarene and Nazoraean] reflect the Semitic n-ts-r (nun-tsade-resh), a root with specifically gnostic connotations going back to the Bronze Age. The dictionary tells us that Hebrew natsar means “watch, preserve, guard.” Its cognates in related Semitic languages also signify “secret knowledge” and “hidden things.” . . . .
. . . . . For perhaps the first time, we can now see that Natsarene (or a close cognate, with Semitic tsade) was widely used in early Middle Eastern religions to designate the person of advanced spirituality, a spirituality linked to hidden gnosis. Hence the title of the Addendum, “The Natsarene and hidden gnosis.” . . . .
The table of contents: (more…)
Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr
René Salm has translated the first two chapters of a fascinating study by Ditlef Nielsen, The Old Arabian Moon Religion And The Mosaic Tradition (1904) and made them available online at his Mythicist Papers resource page.
He has other resources there, too. Anyone interested in the origins of the “Nazarene” epithet [n-ts-r] applied to Jesus and early Christians, in the roots of the three-day death and resurrection concept in myth, of the (very early) background to what the later emergence of the Mandean or John the Baptist sect, the astrological basis for the Jewish sabbath and “magical” numbers, will find these resources indispensable. I have just completed the second chapter of Nielsen’s book and found it absolutely fascinating.
This is a continuation of my earlier post on the Nazarenes. As with that earlier post, this is primarily preparation to for adding articles to my vridar.info site. Maybe I was just unlucky, but it was not easy for me to find an online translation of the relevant passage by Epiphanius, Panarion 29. So hopefully this can be a useful reference for others interested in this topic.
Here is the complete text of “Panarion 29″ by Epiphanius as it appears in the translation published by Brill, copied from the nazarenespace.com page, with my own corrections and editing. (more…)