Vridar

2012/03/15

Jesus, Neither Man Nor Myth

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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This evening I was heartened to find an idea that has long been lurking in my mind suddenly out in the light of day, in print, in a 1939 Hibbert Journal article by French scholar Paul-Louis Couchoud. Couchoud was replying to M. Loisy’s critique of “Christ mythicism” and within a few pages he said it. He said that while he has argued Christianity did not begin with a historical Jesus and that it is futile to think a “historical kernel” can be found somewhere in the Gospels, he has never said Jesus was “a myth”.

What exactly are we reading about when we read of the earliest Jesus in our records, in particular in the New Testament epistles? Troels Engberg-Pedersen has studied Paul’s letters from the perspective of Stoic philosophy and sees in Paul’s religious ideas a striking similarity of function between the Stoic’s Logos or Reason and Paul’s Christ. Both figures effect “salvation” through reaching down to the would-be convert, exalting those in whom they are revealed or awakened into a new identity that sets them apart from the world and their past lives, and leads them into a new way of life “in Reason/the Logos” or “in Christ”. Some of these ideas are found in the Engberg-Pedersen archive. I can’t think of “Reason/Logos” as a myth, and it is hard for me to think of Paul’s Christ a “myth”, too. A spiritual idea, yes. But that’s not the same as a myth.

This heavenly Christ, this religious conception or representation of a God-Man idea

has no relation to the conception of a man elevated to divinity nor to that of the anthropomorphic God, both of which were familiar to the religion of antiquity. It is an intimate and unique synthesis in which God retains his glory in its fullness and man his mortal destiny in its bitterness, without change of God into man or of man into God. It was a new idea, and it was by this new idea that the world was conquered. (Couchoud)

I think Couchoud here hits on a subtext in historicist-mythicist arguments. The end-result, the Christ in heaven, is far too a-human or non-human to be the kind of figure one would expect of a real man who had evolved into a deity. And he certainly is no counterpart to Homer’s Olympian gods.

Why Christ is not a myth (more…)

2012/03/12

Table of Contents for Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 9:56 am

Here is a complete list of posts in this series listed in the order in which they appear in Couchoud’s book.

Volume I

Part 1   THE APOCALYPSES  (168 B.C. to A.D. 40)

1. Pre-Christian Foundations of Christianity

I had earlier posted these without the same sorts of commentary as Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ 

These posts contained PDF files of:

The Foreword

Chapter one: Preliminary

Chapter two: The Profaned Temple (concerning the time of Antiochus Epiphanes)

Chapter three: The Dream of Daniel (the first appearance of the Divine Man/Son of Man as an entirely metaphoric figure)

Chapter four: The Revelations of Enoch (traces the evolution of this Daniel figure)

Chapter five: The Revelations of Moses (continuing the evolution of this figure into a real heavenly person)

2. John the Baptist and the foundations of Christianity

Chapter six of part 1, titled “The Prophet John the Baptist”

3. The first signs of Christianity

This looks at the earliest appearances of uniquely Christian terms for the Christ figure, Christian practices such as baptism and visionary experiences, and the break from John the Baptist. Chapter seven of part 1, titled “Elements of Christianity”. (more…)

Jesus Formed (Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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This post contains the final chapter of Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ.

I began this series with a post designating Paul-Louis Couchoud as Earl Doherty’s forerunner. There are notable differences between the two as anyone who has read Doherty and this series of posts will quickly see. I think those differences are worth serious discussion.

Scholarship has moved on since Couchoud and there are a number of areas where refinements are necessary; I and others have pointed to shortcomings in Couchoud’s arguments. But there remains much that is thought-provoking nearly a century after his works were first published.

When I began posting on Couchoud’s book I intended only to address the few chapters on his views of Gospel origins. Given the interest generated I decided to continue posting to cover the whole book even though that meant the chapters would be out of sequence. So my next post will be links to the complete contents in their correct order.

Here is the final chapter. I have included the page references in square brackets.

.

JESUS FORMED

JESUS has been definitely formed. His features have been determined and composed. He is still the great heavenly Judge of the Day of Doom; that he has been from the beginning; it was his first function and for long his only function. His Judgment will be preceded by the Resurrection of the Body; on this point the doctrine of the Roman Church has overcome that of St. Paul. It will be followed by eternal life. His Kingdom on Earth will last a thousand years, and in the eyes of God a thousand years are as a single day. His true Kingdom is not of this world, and the expectations founded upon it are not material. The oppressed may not dream of an earthly recompense from him, but after the Judgment is over they will put on as a garment their heavenly glory. The Advent withdraws to a remote future, and the dead will find paradise or hell till the coming of the awaited Day. In the meantime the Church makes its plans for its earthly continuation. The grand descent in glory will be Jesus’s second visit to earth; the first, in humiliation and sacrifice, is henceforth to be the subject of the Christian’s meditation. (more…)

2012/03/11

Christ Descends to Earth: Marcion’s contributions to Christianity (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Marcion — Neil Godfrey @ 8:40 am
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This continues my series on Paul-Louis Couchoud‘s The Creation of Christ. Full set of posts are archived at Couchoud: Creation of Christ.

The previous post was Couchoud’s discussion of view of Christ as a mystical and heavenly being according to early Christian literature, and how in the Epistle of the Hebrews we encounter the first sign of a belief that Jesus took on a flesh and blood body while still operating entirely in the heavens, offering himself as a heavenly sacrifice, and in acting as our celestial high priest. From here it was but a small step to imagining Jesus visiting humankind on earth. In Couchoud’s view it was Marcion who took this critical step with his composition of the earliest form of the Gospel of Luke.

Much has been written about Marcion since Couchoud wrote. Here, however, I will present Couchoud’s argument with very little reference to more recent works on Marcion and Marcionism. The sharing of ideas is not for the sake of others embracing them whole, but in order to stimulate new thoughts by mixing what we know today with what others have thought before us.

Marcion the person and his contribution to Christianity

Couchoud introduces the person of Marcion in much the same colours as another scholar of his day, von Harnack, had done: as a revolutionary or reforming and noble spiritual figure who takes his place among other greats in the history of Christianity.

Marcion was one of the world’s great religious geniuses, and takes his place between St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi. (p. 124) (more…)

2012/03/06

How Christ Jesus became Flesh – the role of the Celestial High Priest (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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Continuing here my series of posts from Paul-Louis Couchoud‘s The Creation of Christ. Full set of posts are archived at Couchoud: Creation of Christ. In this chapter Couchoud finds a pivotal place for the Epistle to the Hebrews as a significant stepping stone between Paul’s Jesus, who had nothing more than “an appearance or form” of flesh, and the “historical” Jesus who appeared on earth as a man.

Again I have machine-copied the entire chapter (pages 119-123). This post follows the one in which Couchoud outlined his view of how the Christian churches or Christianities of the very late first and early second century turned to the stability of teachers and bishops and the Jewish Scriptures as anchoring authorities to replace that of discredited prophets. Keep in mind that this is all before the first gospel of the life of Jesus has appeared.

And again I have slightly altered some of the formatting of Couchoud’s chapter by indenting longer quotations, moving footnotes inline and identifying them by curly brackets {  } . I have also added bold highlighting.

p. 119

THE CELESTIAL HIGH PRIEST

.

The problem which offered the greatest difficulty was the presentation of Jesus. Gropingly a clearly defined picture was sought. (more…)

2012/03/04

Why early churches chose a Book over living prophets (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Christian origins,Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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I have copied here the entire next chapter (by machine, not hand-typed!) by P.L. Couchoud in The Creation of Christ. My previous post in this series introduced the book section in which he will present his argument for the emergence of the Gospels and the New Testament collection as we know it. (Click Couchoud: Creation of Christ for the complete series.) In this chapter Couchoud gives his account of how the various Christian churches filled the gap left by the prophets. It was the vigour of the prophets, recall, that propelled the growth of the churches in the early days. But prophecy is also anarchistic and is not equipped to maintain control or future growth and stability of the churches.

How did the churches shift from being enthused by spirit-filled prophetic messages to bodies dominated by sober teachers and a Book?

I have slightly altered some of the formatting of Couchoud’s chapter (pages 114-118) by indenting longer quotations, moving footnotes inline and indicated by curly brackets {  } and by adding headings and highlighting here and there. (more…)

2012/03/03

Christianity in the Gap Years: 70 – 120 CE (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Christian origins,Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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Continuing my series of posts from Paul-Louis Couchoud‘s The Creation of Christ. Full set of posts are archived at Couchoud: Creation of Christ.

We are now about to come full circle. I began this series of posts by looking at Couchoud’s account of Gospel origins. That led to his arguments for the origins of the remainder of the New Testament literature, with particular attention to the possible role of Clement of Rome. I then said, What the heck, and decided to go through the rest of his book, too, even if it meant going back to the beginning, with the place of John the Baptist at Christianity’s foundations, early divisions within the church, Paul’s letters and his opposition to the Christianity represented by the Book of Revelation. Next, Couchoud prepares for his discussion of the creation of our New Testament Gospels. And that is where I begin this post. He first surveys the “state of Christianity” in the Empire in the decades following the 70 CE destruction of Jerusalem — in particular, what various “Christianities” looked like in various quarters of the Roman empire: Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome.

The passing of the prophets

Couchoud attributes the rapid growth of earliest Christianity to the zeal of its prophets. As the churches grew the prophets multiplied exponentially. But “prophecy does not tolerate mediocrity.”

Paul and John were the torch-bearers of the procession, and after them came a great multitude of minor prophets, who left nothing capable of survival. Their finest inspirations would have been utterly lost if it had not been for the flowering of the gospels. (p. 109)

The strengths of the prophets were also their undoing:

The prophetic gift is a principle of anarchy. Each prophet is divinely inspired, therefore of the highest authority. Where their divine inspirations disagreed, there was a dispute, and there could develop no common accord. What had brought about the end of the Jewish prophets of six centuries before now brought an end to the Christian prophets. The Lord was late in coming; the ekklesia which anxiously awaited the Advent became over-numerous and their adherents difficult to manage. Re-organization of bankruptcy became the word of the day. (p. 109)

So by the year 170 the church had reorganized itself and was in no danger of being undone when Montanus and his two prophetesses arose to disturb the ecclesiastical peace in Asia Minor. By then the church had a powerful weapon to defend itself against such spirit-inspired anarchy: a Book, or Books, of the Life and Teachings of the Lord Jesus. But what was happening to the churches before these gospels appeared? (more…)

2012/02/26

The Christ of John’s Revelation — Nemesis of Paul’s crucified Christ (Couchoud continued)

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This post continues Couchoud’s account of the nature of the Christ found in the Book of Revelation and how he epitomizes the “false Christ” that Paul denounced his apostolic rivals for promoting. Couchoud has been tracing the rise of Christianity from the Enochian community in “pre-Christian” times and the evolution of the Christ idea in his work The Creation of Christ. Jesus Christ, he argues was a figure that evolved from meditations of the Jewish Scriptures and related Second Temple apocryphal literature. Paul’s Christ was a heavenly being into whom he projected his own life of sufferings and attributed to them saving power once embodied in God himself. Jesus was really another image or aspect of God himself. But Paul’s rivals were based in Jerusalem and they envisaged a very different sort of Christ. The continuing visions of this conquering and far-from-humiliated Christ by one of those “Jerusalem pillars”, John, is the subject of this post. The previous post in this series examined The Book of Revelation’s damning allusions to Paul’s Christ and teachings. Keep in mind that all of these Christological divisions pre-date any thought that Jesus had visited earth. According to all early prophets and apostles Jesus was an entirely heavenly being whose coming — first coming — was eagerly anticipated by the devout. The complete series is archived here.

John is carried up from earth to heaven where he beholds the glorious setting of the Eternal and Formless God (Rev. iv. 2-6):

Behold a Throne was set in heaven
On the Throne was One seated.

He who was seated was in aspect as a Jasper and a Sardius;
A Rainbow round about the Throne
In sight like an Emerald.

About the Throne were four-and-twenty thrones,;
On the thrones were sitting four-and-twenty Elders,
Clothed in white raiment,
On their heads crowns of gold.

Out of the Throne came lightnings
And the crash of thunder.
Seven Torches of Fire burned before the Throne
Who are the Seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne a sea of glass
Like a crystal.

Jesus is found to be dwelling in such a setting as this, forever sharing the glory of God’s throne. This Jesus is now described.

John is present at the mysterious liturgy which comes before the great drama. A scroll sealed with seven seals is in God’s hand. None in heaven, nor on earth, nor in hell, can open it. Further on its name is given as the Book of Life, the Book of the Slain Lamb.* [* Rev. xiii. 8 (the Book of the Life of the Lamb) ; xvii. 8 ; xx. 12 (the Book of Life).] This is the complete record on which the names of the elect are inscribed since the beginning of the world. When the seven seals are opened, the judgment will begin. Jesus alone can open them for to him belong the elect. Before the ages he redeemed them with his blood. He is the Sacrificed Lamb of Isaiah, the ram “slain from the beginning of the world” (Rev. xiii. 8; cf. I Peter i. 20: “foreordained before the foundation of the world, ” a corrective to John). He appears in the midst of God’s throne (Rev. v. 6):–

I saw in the midst of the Throne and of the four Cherubim,
In the midst of the Elders,
A Lamb, as though Slain,
With Seven Horns and Seven Eyes,
Who are the seven Spirits of God
Sent forth into all the Earth.

The Shape of the Lamb is the eternal shape of Jesus. In heaven he is the divine Ram, as Jahweh was originally a divine Bull. The Lamb takes the Book to the sound of a new song (Rev. v. 9-10):–

Thou hast the power to take the Scroll
And to open the Seals of it,
Because thou wast sacrificed,
And bought for God with thy blood
Men of every tribe, speech, nation, and race,
Whom thou hast made for our God a Kingdom of priests,
Who shall reign on Earth.

While the first six seals are being opened, warning events take place (Rev. vi. I) :–

I SAW the Lamb open one of the seven Seals;
I HEARD one of the four Cherubim
Say in a voice of thunder,
Come!

I SAW; behold a white horse;
He who rode him
Held a Bow.
To him was given a Crown:
He went forth a conqueror to conquer.

After the conqueror come a red horse, a black horse, a green horse; their riders are war, famine, and pestilence. The martyrs of old whose souls are beneath the heavenly altar cry out to God for vengeance. 

Up till now I have attempted to post my own outline and paraphrase of Couchoud’s argument. But I see here I am beginning to quote him in full and for whatever reasons I have decided to scan the remainder of this chapter and copy Couchoud’s words in full for the remainder of this post. This makes it a bit long, but it is out of copyright (hence not illegal) and sharing some of Couchoud’s style (even in translation) as well as his argument may not be a bad thing. I will use the default WordPress fonts and formatting for the full copy of Couchoud’s pages 87 to 108 of The Creation of Christ, Volume 1. The running chapter heading is THE SACRIFICED LAMB. (I have changed some of the coding for the footnotes.) Any bolded text for emphasis, and the colour coding for ease of breaking up the text on a computer monitor is my own doing. (more…)

2012/02/12

The War of the Heavenly Christs: John’s Sacrificed Lamb versus Paul’s Crucified God (Couchoud continued)

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Continuing here my series of outlining Paul Louis Couchoud’s work The Creation of Christ (English translation 1939), with all posts in the series archived, in reverse chronological order, here.

The previous post in this series presented Couchoud’s argument that Paul’s Christ was a God crucified in heaven, the result of a combination of feverish interpretations of the Psalms and other Jewish scriptures and a projection of Paul’s own experiences of suffering.

In the chapter I outline in this post Couchoud begins by narrating the departure of Paul and all the original Jerusalem pillars bar one. Paul, he says, with the demonstration of the converted gentile Titus before the Jerusalem elders, and the Jerusalem elders themselves, were moving towards a reconciliation at long last that culminated in the decree we read of Acts 15 — that gentiles need only follow a few principles ordained originally for Noah’s descendents plus one or two:

  • avoid eating meat offered to idols
  • avoid eating blood
  • avoid eating things strangled
  • avoid fornication (that is, marriages between Christians and pagans)

Couchoud does not know if Paul ever went so far as submitting to this Jerusalem edict, but he does declare that the communities Paul founded in Asia and others influenced by him did ignore it. These were “scornfully called” Nicolaitanes. They continued to live as they had always lived in the faith: buying meat in the market without asking if it had been sacrificed to an idol and tolerating marriages between Christians and pagans.

The authorities at Jerusalem scornfully called them Nicolaitanes, treated them as rebels worse than heathen, excommunicated them, and vowed them to early extermination by the sword of Jesus. (p. 79)

Then came the next turning point in church history:

In the meantime the haughty Mother Church was struck by an earthly sword. In the stormy year which preceded the Jewish insurrection, three “pillars” were taken from Jerusalem. About 62, after the death of the prosecutor Festus and before the arrival of his successor, James, the “brother of the Lord,” the camel of piety, was, together with others, accused by the high priest Ananos as a law-breaker, condemned, and stoned. Kephas-Peter, the first to behold Jesus, perished at Rome, probably in the massacre of the Christians after the fire of Rome in 64. At Rome, too, died his adversary who had in former days impeached and mocked him so vigorously, Paul. Nothing is known of their deaths, save perhaps that jealousy and discord among the Christians brought them about. (p. 80)

In footnotes Couchoud adds

  1. with reference to our evidence for the death of James that the phrase in Josephus appended to the name of James, “brother of Jesus called the Christ” have been added later by a Christian hand;
  2. with reference to Christian sectarian jealousy being ultimately responsible for the death of Peter and Paul he cites both Clemens Romanus V (Clement of Rome) and O. Cullmann, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Philosophie relig., 1930, pp. 294-300, as decisive evidence that there was jealousy and discord.

So this left John (more…)

2012/02/07

Crucified God: origin and original meaning of the concept (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Christian origins,Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 10:15 pm
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Continuing the series of Couchoud’s The Crucified Christ — archived here. In this chapter Couchoud attempts first of all to account for the origin of the concept of Christ crucified and then to address what this meant for Paul and his churches, in particular its mystical and timeless character.

The greatest gift of Paul to Christianity was the Cross. Christians had been accustomed to interpret the prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus Christ had died for our sins. The usual notion — you might call it the orthodox interpretation — was suggested by the word Lamb in Isa. liii. The earthly temple had its counterpart in Heaven, and the Paschal Lamb has its celestial image in Jesus Christ. He was led to the slaughter in sacrifice, and his blood washes their sins from them who are bathed in it. Such is the picture drawn by John, the authorized prophet of the mother-church of Jerusalem. The Jew would understand how the sacrificial death of the Lord would wash away his sins. This idea would give new significance to baptism and to the Easter, which thus became interassociated and symbolic of the sacrifice of the Heavenly Lamb. In the general wreck of Jewish rites this preserved the Easter (Paschal) Feast among Christians. (p. 67)

Couchoud writes that Paul accepted this interpretation overall. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 he reminds Christians at the approach of Easter that “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” Like John, he wrote that the shedding of blood brings redemption. Jesus Christ, he said, was a “ritual victim” or “propitiation”  — Romans 3:25.

But meditation on the sacred texts led him to enunciate a new interpretation of unheard-of boldness. 

Two years ago I posted “They pierced my hands and my feet”: Psalm 22 as a non-prophecy of the crucifixion. If the argument there is watertight then the first part of Couchoud’s view of what inspired Paul to imagine the crucified Christ falls apart. But see also the wikipedia article They have pierced my hands and my feet. I would need to revise that earlier article to see whether it is premised on the Septuagint being a translation of an earlier Hebrew text. If the Jewish scriptures were, as some scholars have argued (e.g. Thompson, Lemche, Wajdenbaum, Wesselius) Hellenistic products, then is it not reasonable to posit the Septuagint as the original version — the legendary letter of Aristeas notwithstanding? I have had other thoughts on a plausible catalyst for the concept but I’ll save those till the end. Will let Couchoud hold the floor for now.

Only the fist part would break down if the contents of the linked post hold. There are two parts to Couchoud’s view on what inspired the concept of the crucified God; the second half of the post is about the nature of this belief — its mystical character and its non-temporality (non-historicity).

The Origin of the Concept (Couchoud)

Psalm 22 depicts the bitter suffering of a god-fearing believer. Couchoud suggests these verses might be read as a companion to Isaiah’s depiction of the expiatory slaying of the Servant – especially since it is followed by Psalm 24 presenting the triumph of the King of Glory.

Here is the Septuagint of the Psalm in translation: (more…)

2012/02/05

The sufferings of Paul (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Luke-Acts,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 12:54 pm
Paul.

Paul. (Photo credit: Greater Than Lapsed)

Continuing from the previous post, “The Struggles of Paul” . . . . (The full series is archived here.)

Troubles in Ephesus

Having sent his “terrible letter” to the Corinthian ekklesia Paul was beset by mounting troubles where he was staying in Ephesus. He had been banned from the synagogue so assembled his church in “a schole, a meeting place with usually a single circular bench in it.”

In this great swarming city, whither the temple of Artemis drew  each spring vast multitudes of pilgrims, Paul had thought to find “a great door and effectual” opened to him, though “many adversaries” (I Cor. xvi. 9). The adversaries were not only Jews. The followers of John the Baptist did not all rally to the Spirit of Lord Jesus and speak in tongues and prophecy. * Nor did all the Christians consider Paul to be an authorised apostle. Later John praised the Church of Ephesus: “Thou has tried them which say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars.” Alexander the coppersmith who showed much hostility to Paul  †  was probably a Christian. (more…)

The struggles of Paul (Couchoud continued)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Luke-Acts,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 12:50 am
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Map showing the routes of Apostle Paul's journeys.

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Couchoud follows the main outline of Acts in his account of the missionary career of Paul. Where and why he occasionally deviates from Acts is explained in context below. (All posts in this series, along with a few extras, are archived here.)

On first glance it appears that C is merely repeating a well-known set of missionary adventures of Paul. He is to a certain extent, but it is still worth reading in order to grasp the scenario of what he believes those early churches looked like. Keep in mind that the gospel narrative of an earthly life of Jesus has not yet been heard of. The religion is all about the expectation of a Son of God to descend from heaven.

More interesting for me is that it writing out the notes has driven home to me what I think are serious questions about the ostensible claims we find within the letters of Paul. My own comments are in italics and square brackets.

Barnabas and Paul, inspired by the Spirit, undertook their first missionary expedition:

  • Crossed island of Cyprus
  • Along southern coasts of Asia Minor
  • Through Pisidia and Lycaonia — both thickly populated and Hellenized
  • Into the Roman province of Galatia

They learned that preaching the gospel in the Greek world was no idyll. Blows were abundant and life itself was often in the hazard. (p. 48)

We know the story.

Traveling Jews were invited to say a few edifying words in the local synagogues.

Barnabas and Paul profited by this custom to announce the imminent Day of Doom, to reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ dead and risen, and to preach Salvation by his name. Not many Jews were interested; they were annoyed.

But then there was another group nearby, the fertile seed-bed of Christianity:

There were about every synagogue a number of men and women, especially women, who, though not Jews, feared the God of the Jews and desired to placate Jahweh by offering him worship. They formed a sort of floating, indefinite, and unorganized appendix to each synagogue. Among them were to be found the predestined Saints. They had to be detached from official Judaism, united among themselves in Jesus Christ, by means of baptism, by the holy kiss, by miracles and prophecies. Chiefs had to be found for them, and they had to be kept chaste and holy for the arrival of the Lord. This led inevitably to strife. The local Jews raised Cain. They protested to the authorities. The prophets usually left in a riot, in a shower of stones, but leaving behind a new ekklesia of Jesus.

So goes the story.

These two apostles returned to Antioch “in hope and experience.”

Paul’s next plan was for a longer journey. He took Silas, a prophet from Jerusalem, to re-visit the churches established in the first journey and to “maintain their fervour”. This time he set out north (and overland) from Antioch. (more…)

2012/02/04

Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question

Professor Markus Vinzent has posted on his blog  Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question, an article that directs readers to a re-consideration of the ideas of Paul Louis Couchoud that I have recently been outlining here. Past scholarship has always taken for granted the claim of Irenaeus that Marcion found and edited an existing Gospel. Professor Vinzent finds only two exceptions in the literature to this view and one of them is Couchoud.

And there is the poet Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), professor of philosophy and scholar at the Ecole Normale, Paris who, very different from Vogels’ Germanic cautious suggestion, developed a full ‘outline of the beginnings of Christianity’ in his The Creation of Christ (excerpts, a good summary and comments can be found here), based on the idea of a Christ-myth which was turned into a historical Gospel-narrative by Marcion in the years 128-129. And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship. Why has scholarship not picked up the question of Marcion’s authorship – irrespective of whether one agrees or disagrees on it?

Couchoud’s view is debatable (see, for example Roger Parvus’s remarks at https://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/pre-christian-beginnings-of-christianity-couchoud/#comment-22543) but I fully concur with Markus Vinzent’s observation:

And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship.

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2012/02/03

Earliest divisions in the Christian movement (Couchoud continued)

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…)

2012/02/02

The Swarming of the Prophets (A.D. 40 — A.D. 130) — Couchoud contd.

Filed under: Christian origins,Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 12:30 pm
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English: Apostles receive the gift of tongues ...

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The previous three posts in this series covered section one of P. L. Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ : An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity that was headed The Apocalypses (168 B.C. – A. D. 40):

  1. Pre-Christian Foundations
  2. John the Baptist and the Foundation of Christianity
  3. First Signs of Christianity

These posts covered the first seven chapters and the foreward.

The next section is headed The Prophets (A.D. 40 — A. D. 130). The chapters here are titled:

  • The Swarming of the Prophets (an introduction to the remainder of the section)
  • Divisions
  • Struggles and Sufferings of St. Paul
  • The Crucified God
  • The Sacrificed Lamb

Following this Couchoud addresses the development of the Gospels, and it was in the midst of that section that I began this series of posts.  It is interesting to look at how Couchoud imagined Christian origins, but it is only an overview leaving many details tantalizingly unexplained in the depth some of us would like. The subtitle does say “an outline” after all. I have my own questions and disagreements with aspects of Couchoud’s arguments and others have commented with their own on this blog. That does not detract from much that is of interest in his views, and I try to keep many of my own thoughts to myself as I outline Couchoud’s outline.

The Swarming of the Prophets

This is an introduction to the remainder of the section covering the period from 40 to 130 c.e. All the quotations are from pages 39 to 41 and all bold type, emphasis etc is mine.

The theme of this chapter is the origin of the key concepts “gospel” and “church assemblies, the make up of those early churches and the nature and results of the zealous expectation of the end of the age. (more…)

2012/01/31

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

Couchoud thought that John the Baptist epitomized and popularized the Jewish hopes for a coming Judge from Heaven — as shown in my previous post in this series (the entire series is archived here).

Christianity was born of the travail of the days of John. The Baptist gave it two talismans with which to bind souls:

  1. the advent of the Heavenly Man in a universal cataclysm,
  2. and the rite of baptism which allowed the initiates to await, without apprehension, the Coming of the Judge.

(p. 31, my formatting)

At first the teaching spread like wildfire but without John’s name attached to it as its IP owner.

Before long the teaching became enriched with various kinds of additions. First among these additions were new names for the Heavenly Man: Lord, Christ, Jesus.

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

To whom could this have been addressed? Surely not to the Messiah, the Son of David, waited for by the Pharisees. David would not have called his son “my Lord.” It must have been to the Son of Man who, according to the Revelation of Enoch, was placed on the throne of his glory by God Himself. (p. 31)

Since David as an inspired prophet makes it clear that the Son of Man is enthroned at the right hand of God and calls him Lord. So believers could also call the Son of Man their Lord.

(Note that the title “Son of Man” was used as a Greek expression, too. Think of Christianity as moulded very largely by Greek speakers.)

Christ, Christos, “is a somewhat barbarous translation of the Hebrew word which means consecrated by unction, Messiah.” (more…)

2012/01/30

John the Baptist and the foundations of Christianity (Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,John the Baptist — Neil Godfrey @ 3:00 am
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In the next chapter of this series we read the view that John the Baptist was a key figure in sparking the movement that became Christianity. Couchoud takes the date for John from Josephus — that is, towards the end of Pilate’s office in 36 c.e. Couchoud believes strongly that there was a fervent expectation among the Jews for a divine messianic deliverer. John was part of this popular hope when he came preaching the coming of the heavenly Messiah figure to judge the world. John’s message was thus fed by the tradition we read of in the above works (Daniel, Enoch, Moses).

Zechariah 13:3 had said there would be no more prophets but John was not afraid to don the prophet’s mantle and take their place. John did not create an image of the Heavenly Man but delivered threats against those who this figure would judge:

O generation of vipers,  [ Pliny, Nat. Hist. viii. 59, 1 — the viper was believed to be the only snake that could bury itself in the earth – metaphor of those who think they can hide from the wrath of God ]
Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,

Do not to say to yourselves,
We have Abraham to our father:
I say unto you that God is able
Of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  [ “stones” = Aramaic abenayya; children = Aramaic benayya ]

Already the axe
Is laid unto the root of the trees:
Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit
Is hewn down and cast into the fire.

He that cometh after me
Is mightier than I,
Whose shoes I am not worthy to untie:
I baptize you with water,
He will baptize you with wind and fire: [ the context of the next verse explains the meaning of wind and fire; the word “holy” before wind (same word as spirit) was a Christian addition and foreign to the context ]

His fan is in his hand,
To purge thoroughly his floor,
And gather his wheat into his garner;
But he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

The urgency of this message (taken from Luke and Matthew) leaves no room for delay. The judgement from this heavenly Son of Man figure from the Book of Enoch is about to befall. (more…)

2012/01/29

Pre-Christian Foundations of Christianity (Couchoud)

Having traced Couchoud’s argument for the development of the New Testament it’s time I returned to the beginning of his two volume work, The Creation of Christ, and outline his views on the development of Christianity itself. (The entire series is archived here.)

I once posted links to pdf version of Couchoud’s opening chapters:

Foreword (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

Apocalypses (168 b.c. – a.d. 40)

I. Preliminary (approx 1.8 MB pdf)

II. Profaned Temple (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

III. The Dream of Daniel (approx 3.3 MB pdf)

IV. Revelations of Enoch (approx 6.7 MB pdf)

V. Revelations of Moses (approx 2.8 MB pdf)

I will comment on only a few aspects of some of these chapters. Read them — they are not long — to understand Couchoud’s argument for the background to Christianity and the references to much of what is below. I will only address a few points here.

These chapters are an overview of the pre-Christian development of the Jewish concept of the heavenly Son of Man figure. Daniel begins the process with a clearly symbolic figure, but later apocalypses turned that symbol into a more literal Heavenly Man. (more…)

2012/01/28

2 Peters, 1 Jude and 2 Revelations: the first New Testament (Couchoud)

Apocalypse of Peter

Continuing the series archived at Couchoud: The Creation of Christ – – – (Couchoud argues that our “editor” – Clement? – compiled 28 books, one more than our current 27 that make up our New Testament and this post concludes the section where Couchoud discusses the origin of our New Testament books.)

The perfect balance of the New Testament still stood in need of a counterweight. Just as the tale of Peter counter-balanced that of Paul in Acts, so the letters of Paul required as counterpoise letters from the Twelve.  There were already in existence a letter by James and three by John.  To make up seven, our editor produced two letters by Peter and one by Jude, John’s brother. (p. 305)

I don’t know if Couchoud here means to suggest “the editor” wrote these epistles himself. I find it difficult to accept the two letters attributed to Peter are by the same hand given what I have come to understand of their strikingly different styles, but let’s leave that question aside for now and cover what Couchoud’s views were as published in English 1939.

1 Peter

This epistle is said to have been a warrant for the Gospel of Mark. (Maybe, but some have suggested the name of Mark for the gospel was taken from this epistle. If it were a warrant for Mark one might be led to call to mind the unusual character of that Gospel. Its reputation had been tinged with “heretical” associations.) In the epistle Peter calls Mark “my son” and is supposed to be in his company in Rome, biblically called “Babylon”. The inference this leads to is that Mark wrote of the life and death of Jesus as learned from the eyewitness Peter. This coheres with Justin’s own naming of the Gospel “Recollections of Peter” in his Dialogue, section 106.

The letter is “a homily addressed to baptized heathen of Asia Minor at the time of a persecution.” Its teachings can be seen to be of the same category as those addressed in the earlier discussions by Couchoud – typical of Clement and anti-Marcionite . . . (more…)

2012/01/23

The Pastorals, a remedy for a grave defect in Paul’s epistles (Couchoud)

My Couchoud series posts (outlines of his work discussing the beginnings of Christianity, The Creation of Christ) are archived here. This post continues the series.

The churches in Clement’s day, and in particular the Church of Rome, were governed by Elders. Paul, of course, knew of no such institution. The heads of the various churches in his day were the Prophets.

This grave defect had to be remedied, so our editor manufactured three new Epistles. For that he made use of another remnant — a letter of simple news addressed to Timothy by Paul from Nicopolis to Epirus. Out of this little thing he made three: two letters to Timothy and one to Titus; and the second letter to Timothy was Paul’s testament written at Rome. (p. 304)

He took a single letter and broke it into three parts that became the Pastorals, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Note the repetitions. Paul has forgotten a cloke at Troas on his way from Miletus to Nicopolis. He has escaped his enemies at Ephesus and thanks his friends by Timothy. (more…)

2012/01/22

Epistle to the Galatians — Couchoud’s view

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Galatians,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 5:00 am
English: Map of the Letters of Galatia

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This post continues notes from Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ — all posts are archived in Couchoud: Creation of Christ.

Paul-Louis Couchoud, by the way, gets several nods in W. O. Walker’s Interpolations in the Pauline Letters (so, more than once, does Hermann Detering) — See the GoogleBook–Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. From there do a word search in the left margin search-box for “Couchoud” and see the full list of references in that work. (I only mention this for the benefit of anyone who may have run across Dr James McGrath’s or any other scholar’s ignorant scoffing of Couchoud in response to posts in this series. Some scholars can address figures the views of one like Couchoud with the dignified civility expected of public intellectuals.)

Couchoud only skims the surface of conclusions from his more detailed publication, La Première Edition de St. Paul (Premiers Ecrits du Christianisme, 1930). Hermann Detering has posted an online version of this work on his site. So what is outlined here are conclusions, not arguments.

In a footnote in The Creation of Christ Couchoud lists what he believes are the “touch-ups” (editings) an editor (Clement of Rome?) has made in the original letter to the Galatians: (more…)

2012/01/21

Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud

English: page with text of Epistle to the Roma...

Page with text of Epistle to the Romans 1:1-7: Image via Wikipedia

I continue here the series covering Paul Louis Couchoud’s argument for the creation of the canonical New Testament literature from the 1939 English translation of his The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity. The series is archived here — scroll to the bottom for the first posts where the overall purpose for which the literature is covered, along with when and why and why Couchoud suspects Clement of Rome as the editor (and author) responsible.

The guiding principle for the structure was Marcion’s “canon” that began with a Gospel and included ten letters of Paul.

Background: In brief, Marcion was a prominent leader of a form of Christianity that (at least until recently) has been generally believed to have rejected totally the Old Testament and taught that Jesus came down from heaven to preach about an Alien (unknown) God who was all love and higher than the Jewish God of the law and judgment. Marcion claimed Paul as his sole apostolic authority in opposition to the other apostles who never understood Christ’s message. Couchoud argues that a Roman church elder (he suspects Clement) attempted to unite the diverse Christianities represented by competing Gospels (such as Marcion’s Gospel, Matthew, John, Mark) bringing them all together through the themes expressed in Luke and Acts (his own creations, though Luke was largely a re-write of Marcion’s Gospel) except for the intolerable Marcionite views that had to be countered.

Couchoud has covered the creations and compilation of the Gospels and Acts, and now comes to the orthodox versions of the Pauline letters. Marcion had selected Galatians as the most appropriate for the introduction of Paul’s thought; “Clement”(?) preferred Romans as the one most potentially adaptable as a frame of reference for the “correct” reading of Paul’s corpus. (Marcion had placed it fourth.) This would leave nothing more to do than revise a few details here and there in the other letters.

This editor enlarged Romans to twice its original size. (Couchoud mainly follows Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s thought, Gospel and epistles. I have begun posting elsewhere Sebastian Moll’s revision of Harnack’s basic premis in his 2010 work and must post more on that in the future. I keep with Couchoud’s thoughts here.) Massive additions were: (more…)

2012/01/20

Couchoud on Acts of the Apostles

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Luke-Acts — Neil Godfrey @ 10:28 pm
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English: Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul

Ananias restoring the sight of Paul: Image via Wikipedia

I’ll try to complete Paul-Louis Couchoud’s explanations for the second century productions of the canonical New Testament literature starting here with his discussion of Acts. For those who enjoy the stimulation of new (even if old) ideas to spark fresh thoughts, read on.

I left off my earlier series on Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins with his argument that the Gospel of Luke was the last Gospel written and was primarily a response to Marcion. The final remarks in that post were:

On the Emmaus Road Marcion had Jesus remind the travellers that Christ must suffer. Luke goes further and adds that Jesus began with Moses and taught them all that the Prophets said must happen to Christ.

Marcion’s Gospel closed with the words:

Thus it was that the Christ should suffer,
And rise again from the dead the third day
And that there be preached in his name
Repentance and remission of sins to all the nations.

Luke saw what was not said so added:

These are my words that I spoke
While I was yet with you;
How that all things must needs be fulfilled as it is written
In the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms of me.
Then opened he their mind
To understand the Scriptures.

Thus Jesus’ final teaching links up with the first. Marcion is refuted. The Old Testament and Gospel are not in opposition. The Gospel is found in the Old Testament.

Recall that it was Couchoud’s suspicion that the real author of this Gospel and its companion, Acts, was Clement of Rome. So to continue on from there:

Acts of the Apostles – and of the Holy Spirit

First recall that Couchoud sees Luke’s masterpiece innovation as the Holy Spirit. It was this that Luke introduced for reasons of political control: (more…)

2012/01/03

The earliest gospels 6(c) – Luke’s Gospel (Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Josephus,Luke-Acts,Marcion — Neil Godfrey @ 9:14 pm
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Evangelist Luke writing, Byzantine illuminatio...

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Continuing the series archived here: (I have also marked the name Josephus in bold for easy reference for any interested in the study of Luke’s use of Josephus.)

Irenaeus is the first to speak of Luke as the author of our Gospel and Acts dedicated to Theophilus (Haer. iii.1,2). Before Irenaeus we read in Colossians 4:14 of a Luke with the epithet “the beloved physician” having been interpolated into the original; and in the fictitious 2 Timothy 4:11 we read “Only Luke is with me.” Following

is an outline explication of the Gospel of Luke from Couchoud’s perspective of it having been composed around 142 c.e. by Clement of Rome.

The prologue refers to a number of Gospels and Acts already in existence and leads readers to infer that the author is collating his information from these earlier sources while also being in a unique position to offer more authoritative insights and a more coherent narrative of the whole.

With an acrobatic leap he passes from the fine style of a Greek rhetor to that of Biblical narrative. (p. 275)

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea,
A certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah:
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

And they were both righteous, walking before God
In all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren;
Both were well stricken in years.

Couchoud then outlines the narrative we know from Luke 1:8-38 and that I won’t repeat here. (more…)

2012/01/02

The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Luke-Acts — Neil Godfrey @ 11:03 pm
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Polski: Toruń, kościół św. Jakuba, obraz Zesła...

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Continuing with the series archived here.

Couchoud suggests that the author of the Gospel we attribute to Luke may quite likely have been Clement of Rome. But he sees the contribution of this person as of far greater significance than the simple composition of the works we know as Luke and Acts. First, however, the outline of Couchoud’s views of who this major author was. This p.ost should be read in conjunction with the previous one, 6(a).

The popular Shepherd of Hermas written about this time (mid second century) informs us that it was Clement’s duty to send to the other churches the edict of remission of sins which the prophet Hermas learned of in a vision:

Clement will address it to the other towns for he is charged with this duty. (Hermas Vis. 2.4)

The prophetic work of Hermas indicates that prophets were strongly influential in the Roman Church, most likely with wielding power as the Spirit whimmed them. When their authority was replaced by Elders it is suggested that Clement kept his old office as a Church Secretary and increased his authority. He may even have been one of the persons Marcion debated against when in Rome. Clement clearly had some importance among the ruling Elders when he (presumably) wrote his letter to the entire Corinthian Church admonishing them to restore the rule of the Elders they had deposed, “no doubt in order to vest authority in the bishop alone, and to wrest that Church from the Marcionite enemy.”

He was probably born a gentile. He was widely read in Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible in Greek translation, as well as the Book of Enoch and other Jewish apocryphal and apocalpytic writings. He also knew the works of Philo and Josephus. (more…)

2012/01/01

The earliest gospels 6(a) – on the cusp of Luke (à la Couchoud)

Now this time I might add more detail than usual since I find Couchoud’s views on the Gospel according to Saint Luke (at least as covered across several posts here and not necessarily confined to any one in particular) not very distant in many respects from the notions I have been thinking about, though not entirely without the support of a few scholarly publications. I had not realized when I began to share these few chapters of The Creation of Christ that the author continues on to discuss the creation of the Book of Acts and the remainder of the New Testament epistles after Paul’s. It’s an interesting read. I have to share those thoughts in future posts, too. The complete series of these posts is archived here.

Back to Marcion

Couchoud returns at this point of his discussion to Marcion. He imagines a setting where Marcion is seeing the Syrian churches (with their Gospel of Matthew) and the Asian churches (with their theology of John) all opposing him. According to one account when Marcion visited Ephesus the author of the Gospel of John rebuked him as the Deceiver and Antichrist. When he visited Smyrna the bishop Polycarp rebuffed him with the words, “I recognize thee as the first-born of Satan.” Paul, meanwhile, had long since consigned the great apostles themselves to Satan (Irenaeus, Haer. iii. 3-4).

Marcion, with followers as widespread as Africa (Carthage), Gaul (Lyons) and Rome itself, hoped to reverse the mounting conflicts in the East by securing Rome’s approval of his doctrines. Rome’s Christians, like Marcion’s, had no time for Jews and celebrated “Easter”, as did Marcionites but unlike “John’s” churches in Asia, at a time other than the Jewish Passover. Both Rome’s devotees and Marcion’s fasted on the Jewish sabbath (allowing for a typo in the translated work of Couchoud) to spite the Jews. The Roman Gospel of Mark was as neo-Pauline as was Marcion’s and differed from Marcion’s only in respect to the identity of the highest God. (more…)

2011/12/31

The earliest gospels 5 – Gospel of John (according to P L Couchoud)

Continuing here with Couchoud’s views of second century gospel origins. Earlier posts, including explanations for the reasons etc  for these posts, are archived here.

C’s story of John’s gospel begins with a setting in Ephesus, two generations after the feverish hopes for the coming of the Lord that produced the Book of Revelation. The church at Ephesus “preserved the tradition of the pillar apostle who had seen the Lord, for in this lay its claim to fame and to authority.” (p. 223) Apocalyptic enthusiasm had dwindled away and been replaced by a mysticism that experienced Christ as having come in the “here and now” in spirit and in their own flesh. Paul’s teachings about a mystical union with Christ also primary, according ot the evidence of “Ignatius” in his letter to the Ephesians, so much so that Paul’s concept of baptism as symbolic of death and burial had been superseded by the idea of baptism as a principle of a new life in Christ, with eternal life being granted at the moment of emerging from the real “water of life”.

These Christians were “born again” here and now and forever. They lived here and now in Light and Life. They could see and touch here and now the miracles of that divine life in full joy and love. The love was, however, a cultic love for their own brethren and worshiped spirits and not for the world. The prophets were revered, but also tested to see that they were not false and that they carried the same teaching of Christ having come now in the flesh.

They rejected the Marcionites and original teaching of Paul that Jesus had come only in the form of a man. Christ’s body was mystically both heavenly and human flesh and blood. Being heavenly Jesus was not, as Matthew said, born through a woman. The logical impossibility of being both spirit and flesh at one time in one body was resolved by mystic illumination that passes rational understanding. (more…)

2011/12/29

The earliest gospels 4 – Matthew (according to P L Couchoud)

Matthew Evangelist. The text also says - Abrah...

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This post follows on from four earlier ones that are archived here. (That is, it’s take on the Gospel of Matthew is entirely my understanding of Paul Louis Couchoud’s analysis of this gospel as a reaction to what he believes to have been the original Gospel produced by Marcion. Quotation page references are from Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ”. Scholarship has moved on since the 1920 and 30’s obviously, but some of the concepts raised — not all of them uniquely Couchoud’s by any means — are worth consideration nonetheless and have the potential to be adapted to the broader question of Gospel origins even today.)

The Gospel attributed to Matthew was composed in Aramaic speaking regions of eastern Syria and northern Mesopotamia where the Jewish population was numerous and Christians were mostly from Jewish backgrounds, says Couchoud. It was written in Aramaic, among a Christian community that saw itself as literally related to the ethnical Israel, and in response to both the Gospel attributed to Mark, said to have been Peter’s scribe, and the Gospel of Marcion. Mark’s gospel was believed to have been too pro-Pauline and anti-Law for their liking.

This scribe who wrote this new gospel structured it in 5 parts in apparent imitation of Moses’ 5 book presentation of the Law. Each part contained narratives and precepts. (The birth narrative at the beginning and Passion at the end formed a prologue and epilogue to this five-part book. The work was to be attributed to a credible eyewitness, so substituted Matthew, a disciple very well known in the Aramaic region where he and his readers were (Matthew’s tomb was reported as being located there around ca 190), for Marcion’s and Mark’s publican named Levi.

This scribe (to be called Matthew) expressed his own view with the parable of Jesus teaching that the new faith is a precious mix of the new and the old. So he did not discard the old as Marcion had done.

Matthew’s primary purpose was to demonstrate far more clearly than Mark had done that Jesus was the Messiah who was the fulfilment of Old Testament scriptures. He liberally adds OT quotations to make his point. (more…)

2011/12/28

The earliest gospels 3 — Gospel of Mark (according to P.L. Couchoud)

Couchoud’s take on the Gospel of Mark follows. This post should be seen as a continuation of the previous three. (That is, it’s take on the Gospel of Mark is entirely my understanding of Paul Louis Couchoud’s analysis of this gospel as a reaction to what he believes to have been the original Gospel produced by Marcion. Quotation page references are from Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ”.)

Like Marcion’s gospel there is no mention of an author — “unless ‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ is intended to give the author” (p. 170). Couchoud earlier made the point that Marcion’s gospel was likewise anonymous and if pushed his followers would say it was “Christ’s” gospel.

It is possible that this gospel was written in Latin (Ephrem’s note), or was composed with a Latin and a Greek version. The surviving manuscripts are in poor condition with the original ending lost. (I do not believe the original ending was ever lost, but I am keeping my own views quiet while I focus on staging those of Couchoud for now.) (more…)

2011/12/27

The earliest gospels 2 — the Gospel of Basilides (according to P.L. Couchoud)

The Gospel of Marcion, continues Paul Louis Couchoud, was fascinating reading but received outside Marcionite churches only after appropriate corrections. The first of these was in Alexandria by the gnostic philosopher Basilides.

The works of Basilides have been lost. We know they consisted of 24 books making up his Gospel and Commentaries. From Hegemonius we know the gospel of Basilides included Marcion’s parable of Dives [the Rich Man] and Lazarus. In Marcion’s gospel this parable addressed the Jews exclusively. The place of torment and place of refreshment (for those who obey the Law and Prophets) were both in “Hell”. Heaven is the bosom reserved only for thoBase who belong to the Good God (who is greater than the Jewish creator god).

Basilides’ gospel did not have Jesus actually crucified. For Basilides, who may have been influenced by Buddhism, all suffering is the consequence of sin, even if for sins committed in a former life.

Basilides taught that Jesus somehow was confused with Simon of Cyrene and it was this Simon who was crucified in his place. Jesus, being supernaturally related to God or Mind was able to change his appearance at will, and so escaped crucifixion and was taken, laughing at how he had deceived mere mortals, to heaven. Thus the Pauline theme of the mocked Archontes/Rulers was maintained, but in the process the crucifixion was denied — a denial we see repeated in the Acts of John and in the Koran of Islam.

So Basilides was extending the original notion found in Marcin’s gospel that Jesus had no real human body.

Basilides is apparently responsible for the institution of the festival of the Epiphany of Jesus and of his Baptism on January 6.

This makes us think that according to Basilides the manifestation of Jesus as a god took place at a baptism similar to the water festival celebrated at Alexandria on January 6, but in honour of Osiris. (ppp. 169-170)

Next post, the Roman reaction: the Gospel of Mark

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The earliest gospels 1 — Marcion’s gospel (according to P.L. Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Marcion — Neil Godfrey @ 5:27 pm
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This post follows on from the previous one outlining Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins. It starts with highlights from what he believes (generally following Harnack) Marcion‘s Gospel contained; looks at the next Gospel written apparently by Basilides; then at the way our canonical Gospel of Mark took shape and why, followed by the Gospels of Matthew, John and Luke.

The Gospel of Marcion

The authorship was anonymous. (p. 138)

It was placed with the letters of Paul and a commentary, the Antithesis, as a replacement for the Jewish scriptures.

There is nothing of a connected narrative in it. (p. 139)

It was composed of some sixty anecdotes, or pericopes, detached fragments without any connection between them. (p. 139)

Jesus was not born but descended from heaven and the gospel begins: (more…)

Another explanation of Gospel origins from a Christ Myth perspective

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ,Marcion — Neil Godfrey @ 10:34 am
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Marcion Displaying His Canon

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Edited last paragraph re Mark and Basilides ca 6 hours after original.

As to why a gospel was written about a “mythical” Jesus, here is a take by Paul Louis Couchoud from the 1920’s and published in English in 1939 as The Creation of Christ. (For other thoughts on this theme see discussion comments here.)

Couchoud attributes the first gospel to Marcion.

To make sense of this one must understand that Couchoud dates the letters of Clement of Rome and Ignatius to around 150 c.e. One recalls here the more recent ideas about the Ignatian letters by Roger Parvus. This leaves us with the common observation that “the half century from 70 to 120 is the most obscure period in the history of Christianity” (p. 110).

Couchoud argues that before that gap there was Paul, Jerusalem apostles and prophets. They all lay claim to visions of Christ. The Book of Revelation (dated prior to 70 and the fall of Jerusalem) is the outcome of a prophetic vision of one who is starkly opposed to Paul’s theology and visions. “Paul alone understood that the Son thus revealed was a crucified God.” (p. 132)

Couchoud relies heavily on Harnack’s interpretation of Marcion, an interpretation that has more recently met a trenchant challenge with Sebastian Moll’s The Arch-Heretic Marcion (2010). Moll says Harnack was anachronistically trying to make Marcion too much like an ideal Protestant reformer. But in this post I will let Couchoud have his say from his perspective in the early twentieth century.

Whereas many (including myself) have attempted to argue that the gospel narrative was an indirect response to the crisis of the first Jewish war that witnessed the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce, Couchoud places more emphasis on the events of the second Jewish war — the Bar Kochba rebellion (Bar Kochba being hailed as a Jewish Christ and being responsible for persecutions of Christians) and its suppression by Hadrian who erected a pagan temple on the site of the old in the early and mid 130s.

So of what had Christianity consisted up to this time? Couchoud considers how the Christian scene looked to Marcion: (more…)

2011/12/15

Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ

In his review of Maurice Goguel‘s attack on Jesus mythicism Earl Doherty writes (with my emphasis):

It was at the opening of the 20th century that the first serious presentations of the Jesus Myth theory appeared. The earliest efforts by such as Robertson, Drews, Jensen and Smith were, from a modern point of view, less than perfect, lacking a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of the issue. Pre-Christian cults, astral religions, obscure parallels with foreign cultures, even the epic of Gilgamesh, went into a somewhat hodge-podge mix; many of them didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Paul. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Paul-Louis Couchoud in France offered a more coherent scenario, identifying Christ in the eyes of Paul as a spiritual being. (While not relying upon him, I would trace my type of thinking back to Couchoud, rather than the more recent G. A. Wells who, in my opinion, misread Paul’s understanding of Christ.)

More recently on this blog Earl Doherty stated in relation to this 1920’s French mythicist (again my emphasis):

Prior to Wells, the mythicist whose views were closest to my own was Paul-Louis Couchoud who wrote in the 1920s, though I took my own fresh run at the question and drew very little from Couchoud himself.

I have recently acquired a two volume English translation of Couchoud’s work titled The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity, translated by C. Bradlaugh Bonner and published 1939.

Today I did a very rough and dirty bodgie job of scanning the introductory chapters of this book and making them word-searchable. But if you are not a fuss-pot for perfection and are curious about how Couchoud opens his argument I share here the opening pages of this two volume work.  (more…)

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