Vridar

2012/09/23

Mark’s Parables as Simonian Allegories

Filed under: Christian origins,Gospel of Mark,Roger Parvus — Roger Parvus @ 12:05 pm
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AN ATTEMPT TO VIEW MARK’S PARABLES FROM THE INSIDE

Samuel Sandmel, in his The Genius of Paul (link is to full-text online), made this observation:

The parable of the sower in Mark (and in Matthew and Luke) is so presented in the Gospels as to have us believe that, clear as it was, the disciples did not understand it and they require explanation in private. The Gospel would have us suppose that there was more in the parable than meets the eye. Unhappily, there is not. The same is true in page after page of the Gospels. (p. 214)

Mark’s presentation of the parable of the sower does hint quite loudly that there is more to it and its gospel (“all things”, Mk. 4:11) than meets the eye. Its author asserts that his Jesus deliberately hid his meaning from those “on the outside”. And even though he makes his Jesus give a “private” explanation of the parable, his letting any and every reader and hearer of the narrative have access to that explanation shows that the beans have really not been spilled at all. Furthermore, he warns us that just reading or hearing the parable and its explanation will not be much help, for there are many who “look and see but do not perceive, hear and listen but do not understand” (Mk. 4:12). And he drives that point home in the rest of his gospel by relating how the Twelve themselves—even after being given their private explanation—still failed to perceive or understand.

To know what if anything is hidden [in the parables], one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel.

But I think that Sandmel is wrong to rule out that there is really something more below the surface. To know what if anything is hidden there, one would first have to know who the Markan insiders were. Their identity is the key to correctly understanding their gospel. And, unfortunately, the provenance of Mark’s Gospel has never been securely determined.

I have explained in comments on a few other Vridar posts* why I think the Markan insider circle was Simonian, i.e., composed of followers of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria. As I see it, canonical Mark is a proto-orthodox reworking of a Simonian gospel, urMark, that sometime between the end of the first century and 130 CE was put together using two components:

  1. an earlier succinct myth about a divine figure, the Son of God, who briefly descended to this world to trick the princes of this world into wrongfully crucifying him. He did this by transforming himself and surreptitiously switching places, as Simon Kyrenaios, with a failed Jewish Messiah being led out by the Romans for crucifixion. To this was prefaced
  2. a cryptic allegorical portrayal of the apostolic career of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria.

The seam between the two parts is Mk. 15:15, the release of the Son of the Father (Barabbas).

That a Simonian would compose such a two-part life of the Son of God was fitting, for Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son “who seemed to suffer in Judaea” (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 19).

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. . . . If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide?

In this post I conduct a kind of experiment. I assume— just to show where it can plausibly lead—that my identification of the insiders as Simonians is correct, and I examine how that identification changes our perspective of the parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel.

I attempt to answer the questions: If the creators of the parables were Simonian, what was it they were looking to express by them, and what was it they were looking to hide? What was it they wanted outsiders to see but not perceive, hear but not understand?

.

Hippolytus, in a few short chapters of his The Refutation of All Heresies (which I will abbreviate, going forward, as RAH), describes the teaching of Simon of Samaria as it was presented by his Great Proclamation (the Apophasis Megale). Hippolytus’ exposition, short as it is, is the fullest explanation of Simon’s system that is extant. It provides enough, I submit, to reveal what the Markan parables are really about. The translation of the RAH I will use is that of G.R.S. Mead in his Simon Magus (link is to full-text online). (more…)

2012/07/09

The Lost Half of Christianity

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

  1. 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”;
  2. 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;
  3. 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…)

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…)

2012/02/07

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…)

2012/02/03

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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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…)

2012/01/29

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…)

2011/06/11

Heavenly Visions: the foundation of Paul’s Christianity

The Ladder of Divine Ascent is an important ic...

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The New Testament epistles inform us that the original Gospel was a revelation from God. That means it did not originate by means of spoken tradition relayed from historical events, by word of mouth, from eyewitness or preacher to others. Rather, one might almost say that the medium itself was the message: the revelation or vision was, in a signifcant sense, the Gospel and conversion experience.

Thus Paul — thought by some scholars to be the real founder of Christianity — says that he was not taught the Gospel by men. “In Galatians 1, Paul claims that he did not receive the gospel from a human source. . . . In Galatians Paul speaks of his conversion as a revelation (apocalypse [1:12])” (Segal, 1990: 35, 36)

I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. . . . But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. (Galatians 1:12, 16) (more…)

2011/05/31

Mythicist Papers: Background to Christian Myths – a 3 day death, Nazarenes, the John the Baptist sect. . . .

Crescent Moon (NASA, International Space Stati...

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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.

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2011/04/23

Earl Doherty’s Antidotes for a James McGrath Menu.

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Earl Doherty has visited James McGrath’s Matrix Restaurant and sampled for himself all 23 items offered on his Menu of Answers for Mythicists. Here is the first part of Earl’s complete culinary report on his experience along with tips for other prospective diners.

Herewith a response to Jim McGrath’s blog feature A Menu of Answers to Mythicists

Dr. Jim McGrath has kindly offered historicists who visit his Matrix restaurant a handy “Menu of Answers” to arguments and claims put forward by mythicists. With his white napkin of pre-washed orthodoxy draped securely over his forearm, waiter McGrath hands diners his menu and wishes them “bon appetit.” The problem is, the entrées on this menu as often as not produce indigestion, since they have not been properly cooked with reason at fallacy-killing temperatures, seasoned with critical acumen or sautéed in clarity, and the accompanying beverage list offers only the cheaper vintages of biased brews. So I would like to offer a selection of antidotes, guaranteed to restore equilibrium to the digestive system and a measure of rationality to the world outside his establishment, since at the end of the day we all have to return to it.

Menu Entrée #1:

Jesus and Entrées at other Establishments (more…)

2011/03/21

Christianity and the “let’s turn the world upside down” bandwagon

Filed under: Christian origins — Neil Godfrey @ 10:45 pm
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While one sometimes hears it said that the gospel message when first heard in the early Roman empire was “shocking” and “turned the world upside down”, it is in fact more correct to say that the gospel message was a product of its age.

In the century or so leading up to the common era and beyond, the idea of winning by losing, of conquering and gaining life through death, and the virtues of patient endurance and self-denial when faced with tyrannical powers and losses in this world, were emerging as a “new morality”. The Christian message of finding one’s life by losing it was the product of its age.

The Christian saviour who is a king who conquers by dying was the kind of hero that resonated with the popular figures of both serious and light literature of the day.

If in another time heroic figures were great conquerors of cities and slayers of giants — Agamemnon bringing down Troy, Dionysus and Alexander conquering Asia, Odysseus outwitting and slaying Cyclops, David felling and decapitating Goliath — there was another value emerging in those generations preceding the time of Christ that came to stand as an alternative virtue for the powerless.

Here is what a non-Christian Jewish text from around the same era as Christ wrote of heroic figures. The conquering king is the loser; the victor is the one who yields up his body to be a public spectacle as it is tortured to death. The blood of the martyrs is even said to be the salvation of the nation. (more…)

2011/03/13

What do biblical scholars make of the resurrection?

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Or more specifically, what was the state of play around five years ago when Research Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, Gary R. Habermas, had a chapter published in The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue? Habermas outlines four broad positions found among contemporary scholars and identifies a trend in which a strong majority of scholars do favour the idea that Jesus really was raised from the dead “in some sense”. I find his findings noteworthy for another reason that I will save for the end of this post. The link above is to the Wikipedia article on Habermas where he is described as an evangelical Christian apologist. Still, I was interested enough to know what the general state of biblical scholarship appears to be on the question, so I included his chapter in my reading.

“One of the indisputable facts of history”

Habermas writes (my emphasis throughout):

As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus’ death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord. Further, this conviction was the chief motivation behind the early proclamation of the Christian gospel.

These basics are rarely questioned, even by more radical scholars. They are among the most widely established details from the entire New Testament. (p. 79) (more…)

2011/03/05

Vision Mysticism among first and second century Jews and Christians

April DeConick in Voices of the Mystics seeks to expand her readers’ knowledge of vision mysticism in early first-century Christianity, in particular arguing that the Gospel of John was written to oppose the practice as it appears to be endorsed in the Gospel of Thomas. In a recent post I discussed its apparent place in Paul’s experience. DeConick comments on the distinguishing feature of this experience among Jews:

Although the notion that the vision of a god makes one divine was Greek in origin, early Jewish mystics seemed to have welded this idea into their traditions about celestial journeys. Thus, in the Second Temple period, they taught that when one ascended into heaven and gazed on God or his enthroned bodily manifestation, the kabod or ‘Glory’, one was transformed. (p. 49)

Exceptionally righteous individuals like Moses, Ezekiel and Enoch had been transformed or glorified by their visions of God, and in the world to come all righteous were expected to be so transformed. (more…)

2011/03/03

Visions that laid a foundation for Christianity?

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Following the publication of Alan F. Segal’s recent book, it is clear that Jewish mysticism must occupy a more central place than has previously been the case in any construction of the matrices of Paul’s experience and thought. (Morray-Jones, C. R. A. 1993, “Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12:1-12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul’s Apostolate. Part 1: The Jewish Sources”, The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 86, no. 2, p. 178.)

A number of scholars have suggested that mystical visionary experiences appear to have played a foundational role in the emergence of the Christian religion. (Recently I mentioned Larry Hurtado’s proposal that visionary experiences were at the heart of early Christians coming to exalt Jesus to a divine status.) If the visionary experiences initiated Paul’s missionary work, and we find indications that there were other early apostles basing their authority on similar visions, are we really very far from suggesting that Christianity itself originated in such experiences? (more…)

2011/03/02

Jewish Mysticism and Heavenly Ascent Legends and the Context of Christian Origins

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Some of the most interesting work I read to help expand my understanding of early Christianity comes not from traditional biblical scholarship but from classical literature and Jewish studies. Here are a few new questions about the religious world from which Christianity emerged I would like to investigate. They came to mind as I read an old article (1971) in the Jewish Quarterly Review by Dr Joseph P. Schultz, Angelic Opposition to the Ascension of Moses and the Revelation of the Law. I really do need to read a lot more from specialist Jewish studies that do not directly attempt to address New Testament literature. I feel such publications are giving me an unfiltered view of the broader context of religious thought contemporaneous with our earliest Christian records.

So what on earth led me to read a 1971 article in the JQR? Blame April DeConick for that. I was following up some footnoted articles, and footnoted articles in those articles, from her Voices of the Mystics (in which she discusses the relationship of the Gospel of John to mystic forms of Christianity), and one of those led me to the 1971 article. It is all interesting stuff when read alongside some of the New Testament epistles and the Ascension of Isaiah, too. But this post confines itself to general questions arising.

Ascension themes in Mesopotamian literature (more…)

2010/10/01

Peter, in the Enoch tradition, commissioned to replace the High Priest?

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How do we account for Christianity growing out of Judaism yet being so unlike Judaism? Part of one possible answer lies in the recognition that there was no normative Judaism as we understand it prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Noncanonical Second Temple writings such as the Book of Enoch point to the existence of Jewish sectarians who had radically different ideas about contemporary Temple practices and priesthood, cosmology, the law, wisdom, even the angelic world and Godhead prior to the rise of rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. Margaret Barker and others have noticed quite a few distinctively Christian ideas resonating in some of these early books such as the Book of Enoch and that came to be sidelined by later Jewish rabbis. We know, of course, that the Book of Enoch is even quoted in New Testament writings.

This post continues earlier ones taken from a 1981 Journal of Biblical Literature article by George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee”. (Note, though, that I am not reproducing many of N’s details. This post is only a selection of the points he makes.)

It considers the details of Peter’s commissioning as the Rock of the Church in the context of narratives found in Enoch and their adaptations again later in the Testament of Levi (pre-Christian version). Peter emerges as a possible replacement to the High Priest of the Temple, which was, of course, doomed to destruction. The story of Peter and his role in the Gospel of Matthew, at least, grew out of that branch of Jewish religion that opposed the Temple practices and drew upon writings such as the Book of Enoch that did not make it into the rabbinic and later Christian orthodox canon.

I suspect the narrative was composed long after the temple’s destruction, and is an etiological tale to explain how the Church is now the new Temple and Kingdom of God with the Jews having been punished be destruction, slavery and scattering.

(more…)

2010/05/04

How did Jesus become a God? (or How did Christianity begin?)

Larry W. Hurtado (How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?) raises some interesting points about how Christians came to worship Christ alongside God. He focuses on the role of personal revelation (hallucination?). My initial response to his book was to think that his explanation was as vacuous as saying “God did it”, and that it was not an explanation at all. Indeed, he finds it necessary to defend his explanation against other scholars who do not give it the time of day. But I have come to think there is probably more to what he is arguing than I first understood, although he would disagree with my slant.

(Hurtado’s problem is greater than mine, however, because he is seeking to explain how a historical human of recent memory was exalted to be worshiped alongside God, and I don’t think Hurtado’s explanation is sufficient to explain that. But it may well go some way towards helping explain the development of the exalted Christ concept alongside God that we find in Paul’s and other New Testament letters. Hurtado also expresses disapproval of interpreting revelatory experiences as psychopathology and downplays related personal and social crises factors.)

Hurtado asks

what might have moved Jews in touch with their religious tradition to feel free to offer to Jesus the kind of unparalleled cultic devotion that characterized early Christian religious practice? (p.198)

How exalted was Jesus Christ in early Christian thought?

Pretty high up.

God made life, the universe and everything else through Jesus, and Jesus keeps everyone alive and everything in existence now:

yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (1 Cor. 8:6)

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:15-17)

And God has ordained that everything and everyone should worship him:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Is there anything unusual here?

Hurtado (rightly) struggles to understand how a mere mortal should be exalted to this God-status level and worshiped alongside God. (more…)

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