Vridar

2012/11/22

The Star of Bethlehem — the “common-sense view”

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew — Neil Godfrey @ 5:47 pm
Edward Burne-Jones Star of Bethlehem detail

Edward Burne-Jones Star of Bethlehem detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is an interesting excerpt from Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology by Tim Hegedus. (I learned of the book through fortuitous serendipity via astrotheology supporters who describe the book as “a good one”, though their view appears to be based on the cover description alone. It doesn’t do anything to support astrotheology. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I agree it is an interesting book. I had a chance to catch up with it at the University of Queensland library yesterday.)

[The Magi] ask for “the newborn king of the Jews” whose star they have seen “at its rising” (ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ) (v. 2, cf. v. 9). (This translation is preferable to “in the east” of older versions [so KJV and RSV], which would be properly ἐν [ταῖς] ἀνατολαῖς.)

The statement of the Magi is not a reference to a time of day, but rather is calendrical (cf. the phrase “the time of the star’s appearing” [τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος] in 2.7): “rising” means the star’s heliacal rising, i.e. the first time in the year that it was visible rising ahead of the sun before dawn. The usual technical term for this was έχιτολῇ but ἀνατολῇ could be used for the heliacal rising as well; the latter seems to be the case in Matt 2.2.

According to the narrative, the heliacal “rising” of the star held significance for the Magi as an astrological omen. It was this more ancient form of astrology, rather than horoscopic astrology, in which the Magi were engaged.

A recent study by Michael Molnar argues that the most likely horoscope in which professional astrologers such as the Magi would have been interested was the appearance of the Sun, Moon, Jupiter and Saturn (all regal signs) in Aries on April 17, 6 B.C.E. However, Molnar’s conclusions are overly sophisticated: there is no need to interpret the Matthean text in terms of technical or sophisticated astrology such as that of Ptolemy and Firmicus Maternus. Rather, the star of Matthew 2.1-12 derives from the widespread belief (found already in Plato) that all people have a “natal star” which appears at their birth and passes away with them, a belief according to the elder Pliny was commonly held among the general population. (more…)

2012/11/01

Hans Dieter Betz and Norman Perrin: The Sermon on the Mount and the Historical Jesus

Filed under: Betz: Essays on Sermon Mount,Gospel of Matthew,Norman Perrin — Tim Widowfield @ 4:54 pm
Sermon on the Mount - Brancoveanu Moƒnastery

Sermon on the Mount – Brancoveanu Monastery (Photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh)

At Ed Jones’ urging, a few of months ago I purchased Essays on the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of papers by Hans Dieter Betz. While reading chapter 4, “A Jewish-Christian Cultic Didache in Matt. 6:1-18: Reflections and Questions on the Historical Jesus” (p. 55), I was alerted to Norman Perrin’s Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. Betz cites this book as a landmark work in the quest to determine the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings.

I started reading Perrin’s book and came upon a citation of T.W. Manson’s The Sayings of Jesus, which I naturally had to order. Perrin praises this work despite Manson’s denial of form criticism, which surely hobbled his efforts (or at least led him to untenable conclusions). Manson’s book will no doubt lead me to other sources. And so it goes.

I promised Ed I’d have something to say about Betz, the Sermon on the Mount, and the historical Jesus. That’s what this post is about.

The mini-didache in Matthew

Betz’s essay analyzes a series of complex and intricately structured teachings of Jesus found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We should resist calling this set of instructions a group of “sayings”; Betz shows the intricate, multilayered framework indicates a fairly long literary phase between the written gospel and the (presumed) oral tradition. For example, we can clearly see the difference between an early set of instructions (Matt. 6:1-6) that appear to conform well to Judaism and a later insertion (Matt. 6:7-15) that appears to have come from the Jewish Diaspora.

Betz demonstrates the difference by painstakingly examining the structure of what he calls a didache, using the title of a well-known work from early Christianity. He cites Rudolf Bultmann, who commented that these “rules of piety” resemble a church catechism. At first glance, it may seem as if they’re a series of simple “don’t do that — do this” rules, but they’re far more complex than that.

(more…)

2012/03/01

Digging beneath the Gospels to find an imaginary Jesus

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 10:30 am
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A painting by Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin (1873)...

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Joel Watts, now a masters of theological studies, has posted The Schizophrenia of Jesus Mythicists. Since I am always on the lookout for serious arguments addressing the Christ myth argument I had hoped that, despite a title imputing mental illness to those who argue Jesus was a myth, I would find engagement with a mythicist argument. But, sadly, no.

Watts does not want anyone to think he is merely defending a faith-position. He explains that his post is about “verifiable proof” and is not a “matter of faith”.

I can accept that approach. Faith is about things we cannot prove or see. Verifiable proofs would undermine faith. One can only believe Jesus was resurrected and is God etc. by faith. (Does not N.T. Wright undermine faith in the resurrection of Jesus when he claims to have historical proof of the resurrection?)

But here Watts is talking about the historical man, Jesus. His faith presumably would be harder to sustain if there were no generally recognized human of history at the start of it all. So, like Marxists, he must first believe in history.

Here is his argument against mythicists and for “verifiable proofs”: (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…)

2011/12/01

Jesus with Isaac in Gethsemane: And How Historical Inquiry Trumps Christian Exegesis

Other uses for clubs and knives: Flickr photo by Meyer Potashman

Edited with explanatory note on Jesus not struggling with his sacrificial vocation — Dec 2, 2011, 08:10 am

This post concludes the series outlining Huizenga‘s thesis that Matthew created his Jesus as an antitype of Isaac. The earlier posts are:

  1. Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew — this examines the Jewish beliefs about the Isaac offering narrative before the Christian era;
  2. Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence — this surveys Jewish and some Christian beliefs about Abraham’s offering of Isaac in the early Christian era;
  3. Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac — a synopsis of the Isaac allusions to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew up to the Gethsemane scene.

This post concludes my presentation of Huizenga’s chapter The Matthean Jesus and Isaac  in Reading the Bible Intertextually. It first addresses verbal allusions and thematic correspondences between Genesis 22 and the Gethsemane and arrest scenes in the Gospel of Matthew; it concludes with a consideration of the reasons the Gospel author may have used Isaac in this way and the significance of his having done so. I also draw attention to Huizenga’s argument that while we have historical evidence for the likelihood of Isaac being used as a recognizable model for Jesus we have only later Christian exegesis to support the more widely held current view that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant was used as Matthew’s template.

What follows assumes some knowledge of the posts that have preceded. (more…)

2011/11/29

Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac

I forgot to conclude a series I began some weeks ago so let’s at least start to bring this one to a close. I was discussing Leroy Huizenga’s thesis that the Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew has been crafted from the Jewish stories of Isaac. Two reasons this has not been noticed before are suggested. Matthean scholarship has been

  1. “fixated on the formula quotations to the exclusion of other forms of Matthean intertextuality”;
  2. “redactional-critical, not narrative-critical”

. . . thus, scholars miss the cumulative narrative force of the many allusions to Isaac. (p. 70, The Matthean Jesus and Isaac in Reading the Bible Intertextually)

The previous two posts in this series covered various Jewish views of the sacrifice of Isaac in the pre-Christian and early Christian eras. Isaac came to be understood as going willingly and obediently to his sacrificial death, offered up primarily by God himself, with his sacrifice having a saving or atoning power. All this happened at Passover and on the Temple M0unt. Some of the following post will make more sense if those two previous posts are fresh in mind.

(In what follows I single out some of the more striking features of the argument and am not attempting to reproduce all of the facets and nuances Huizenga addresses. Much will be assertions of examples of intertextuality with only a little of the argument for them. This post is an outline of a chapter that is a synopsis of a thesis.) (more…)

2011/10/15

Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

'Akedah: Abraham Offering Isaac'

Image by sarrazak6881 via Flickr

If one reads the Genesis 22 account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac there is very little reason to think that it has very much to do with the details of the Gospel narrative about Jesus. And that’s the problem — it is too easy to read Genesis 22 as if the canonical text so familiar to us was all there was to read and know among Jewish readers of the Second Temple pre-Christian era.

Some scholars neglect the potential significance of Isaac for the Gospel of Matthew due to an anachronistic and often reflexive focus on the canonical forms of Old Testament texts. (p. 64, The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia, Leroy Andrew Huizenga, in Reading the Bible Intertextually)

Huizenga uses the analogy of the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopedia to explain. It has been customary to compare specific details of Gospel narratives with potentially corresponding texts in the Old Testament and decide on the basis of one to one correspondences of semantics whether there is a real relationship between the two. This is like consulting a dictionary to find a direct one-to-one theoretical explanation of a word. A better approach is to explore relationships through “an encyclopedia” that speaks of actual experiences in the way the words have been used and interpreted in cultural knowledge and traditions. In short, this means that

Scholars must ask how Old Testament texts were actually understood within Jewish culture when the New Testament documents were written and not assume that any “plain meaning” of our canonical Old Testament text was the common, obvious, undisputed first-century meaning. (p. 65)

So when one reads in Matthew what appears to be a verbal allusion to Genesis 22, it is valid to ask what that allusion meant to those whose understanding of Genesis was shrouded in other literary traditions and theological ideas of the time. It is not just about what we read in our canon. It is about what Jews of the day wrote and understood and acted upon in relation to their scriptures that is the key.

So what did the Jews make of the story of the binding of Isaac (the Akedah)? (more…)

2011/08/01

Gospel Prophecy (and History) through Ancient Jewish Eyes: The Massacre of the Innocents

10th century

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I used to be always a little troubled or at least mystified by the way the author of the Gospel of Matthew found “a prophecy” for Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” (all the infants two years old and under) in Bethlehem in hopes of killing off the one born to replace him as king of the Jews. The prophecy of this event was found in this verse in Jeremiah 31:15, but that passage is not a prediction of anything. Was Matthew twisting scriptures or what?

Matthew 2:16-18

16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children who were in Bethlehem and in all the region thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

18“In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are no more.”

To get some idea of why this particular prophecy is at the least a little mystifying, here is the verse in Jeremiah’s context: (more…)

2011/07/17

Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew — Neil Godfrey @ 6:57 am
(Edited with additional headings and discussion of the different kinds of Jesus portrayed - an hour after original posting.)
(Again edited 8 Dec 2011)
Ressurection of Jairus' daughter

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As someone rightfully said in relation to my earlier post on this theme, Matthew’s “Misunderstanding” of Mark’s Miracle Stories,

It’s interesting what you can discover when you closely compare the two. Nothing beats a close reading of the texts.

In discussion following a recent post the question was raised why Matthew lacks Mark’s reference to Jairus being a synagogue ruler. (He also omits the name Jairus).

I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to that particular question, but in searching for possible explanations I did notice a number of other interesting differences between the two miracle narratives that indicate quite different agendas of the two authors. One detects not an interest in recording historical detail but in creating a Jesus who fulfils certain quite different expectations and narrative functions. (This is a tendency well known to historical Jesus scholars. But the implications for historicism or mythicism is a separate question from what I am addressing here. I am interested in understanding the nature of the Gospels more fully, in this instance by comparing the way two of them treat a particular narrative.) (more…)

2011/05/01

If the first readers of Luke’s Gospel also knew Matthew’s . . . .

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts — Neil Godfrey @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , ,

. . . . What would they make of the different birth narratives?

The Gospels of All Christians (edited by Richard Bauckham) appeared about twelve years ago challenging the idea that each of our canonical gospels was tailored for a particular community audience: Mark, say, for Romans, Matthew to a church in Syria, etc.

The reasons for this argument, and the reasons for the original paradigm that each of the gospels was the product of a distinct community, are subjects for another post. I have been particularly interested in the subject of intertextuality — the dialogue one can see among both New and Old Testament works. Thomas L. Thompson is one scholar who in particular has addressed evidence for various prophetic works such as Isaiah and Hosea “speaking” to each other — taking up themes that one has raised and presenting an alternative side of the discussion.

I have tended to think of Matthew’s treatment of Mark’s Gospel as an example of the same process continuing into the Christian era. The point is that Matthew was addressing the same audience that knew Mark’s Gospel, and not that Mark wrote for one local audience while Matthew somehow got hold of Mark’s work and re-wrote it for a different community with different views about the role of Peter, the Law, etc. Similarly with Luke’s treatment of Mark. There are limits to this model, however. There clearly were Christian groups who bluntly opposed certain Gospels, and we can think of Marcion accepting none other than a form of the Gospel of Luke. So I am not suggesting that there was one happy universal Christian family open to every revision that came along. Far, far from it. But I have difficulties with the idea that each gospel was written for localized communities. The matters and themes they address are too universal for that to concept to fit well.

But when we take this model — that the gospels were written for (more or less) “all Christians” — then we come back to our old question of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew. (more…)

2011/01/03

How Joseph was piously invented to be the “father” of Jesus

Georges de La Tour. St. Joseph, the Carpenter
Image via Wikipedia

This post continues from the previous one about John the Baptist’s parents. It’s a sharing of my reading of John Shelby Spong’s Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes . . .. I covered in that earlier post the rationale for searching the Old Testament scriptures for an understanding of the Gospel author’s choices of names and narrative episodes.

Spong begins his discussion of Joseph by reminding readers how “shadowy” he is in the Scriptures. Much legend has accrued around him since the Gospels were written, but the New Testament has very little to say about him at all.

The earliest Christian evidence

Neither he nor Mary appears at all in Paul’s writings.

At the very least, we can state that to the degree that Paul represented Christianity in the fifth, sixth, and seventh decades of this common era, there was no interest in Jesus’ origins or his parentage at that stage in the development of the Christian story.

. . . Paul’s writing gives us no indication that he had ever heard of or had any interest in the miraculous birth traditions. (p. 202)

Spong emphasizes the indications in Paul’s letters that Paul thought Jesus’ birth was quite normal. He points to Galatians 4:4 (“born of a woman”) and Romans 1:3 (from David “according to the flesh”). Others have noted, however, that one does not naturally refer to anyone’s birth as being “of a woman” or “according to flesh”! I would expect to get strange looks if in any conversation I managed to explain that I or anyone present was “born of a woman”! That such apparently obvious truisms are made explicit does raise questions about the intent of such phrases in Paul’s letters. But I’ll continue here with Spong’s explanation.

The next Christian evidence (more…)

2010/12/18

Jesus, constructed from Moses and other OT passages — according to the Gospel of Matthew

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Jesus,Spong: Rescuing Bible Fund — Neil Godfrey @ 10:07 pm

One of the first books I read when beginning to question my faith was one that struck my eye while scanning the shelves of a local bookshop, John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.

Moses mosaic on display at the Cathedral Basil...

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It introduced me to many issues being addressed by biblical scholars. I have told the story before, but I like it enough to tell it again: I later had the opportunity to thank Spong personally for assisting me on my journey that took me to atheism. (I don’t think I appreciated at the time that he suffered some grief over his own mentor, Michael Goulder, becoming an atheist, too.)

One observation that Spong addressed was the respective thematic treatments of Jesus in each of the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, depicted Jesus as grounded in the Jewish heritage of the Old Testament literature, and especially as a new Moses figure. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, portrayed Jesus as having stronger associations with a Gentile community. None of this suggested to me that Jesus himself had no historical basis, but it did help reinforce the idea that the Gospels were themselves literary constructs that stood apart from any clear link to a historical person.

Here is what Spong wrote about Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as a Moses figure (identified with *), mingled with a few other linkages of Jesus with Jewish scriptures. (more…)

2010/10/23

Jesus Not Being Good Is No Embarrassment

Filed under: Criteria: Embarrassment,Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,Jesus — Neil Godfrey @ 1:19 am
Tags: ,
Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me
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Matthew was embarrassed by Mark’s Gospel that had Jesus effectively saying that he was not good. Only God is good

And . . . . a person ran up to [him], and kneeling to him asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

But Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? no one is good but one, [that is] God. (Mark 10:17-18)

Matthew deftly shuffles the word order to have them come out of Jesus’ mouth with a sleightly different meaning.

And lo, one coming up said to him, Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have life eternal? ‭

And he said to him, What askest thou me concerning goodness? one is good. (Matthew 19:16-17)

Modern theological scholars are also said to be embarrassed by Mark’s Jesus, and no doubt it remains a puzzling point for many other Christians, too: (more…)

2010/10/01

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

Jesus Gives the Keys to Peter
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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…)

2010/04/06

Why Matthew and Luke changed details of Mark’s sabbath dispute

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts — Neil Godfrey @ 7:26 am

Little details, such as Matthew turning a Pharisee’s statement in Mark into a question, and Luke adding the little word “some” to Mark’s account, on closer inspection turn out not to be haphazard variations, but evidence that the gospel authors were more focused on creative story telling than passing on “traditions”.

The example of this that I noticed most recently is the slightly variant accounts of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees over his disciples’ corn-plucking on the sabbath. (I was thinking through James Crossley’s argument for these different accounts revealing evidence that Mark was written before “the church” experienced any controversy over sabbath observance. In his efforts to uncover “assumptions” being made by Mark, and reliance on a presumed Aramaic source text, he misses much of what actually is there to be seen on the surface.)

Here are some of the differences: (more…)

2010/02/13

Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical

I intend to demonstrate in a series of posts that there is legitimate room for informed, rational, scholarly debate over the historicity of certain events in the so-called life of Jesus. To disagree with E. P. Sanders and “mainstream scholarly opinion” is by no means to be equated with failing to engage the views and arguments of E. P. Sanders and other scholars sharing a majority viewpoint.

Yet public intellectuals from the field of biblical studies have disgraced themselves by declaring that if so-called “mythicists” disagree with the conclusions of the likes of E.P. Sanders and “the mainstream” they are comparable to “Young Earth Creationists”. (It is Intelligent Design advocates who misrepresent their opponents’ arguments and fail to engage directly with the substantial thrust of the literature they oppose, while “mythicists” do indeed engage seriously and with “mainstream literature”, while “historicists” have tended to remain apparently lazily ignorant and willing to distort and misrepresent mythicist arguments. So if the insulting comparison is to be made at all, it would seem to apply more to the “historicists” than to “mythicists”.) Associate Professor James McGrath inferred that the arguments of E.P. Sanders in chapter 1 of his book, Jesus and Judaism, are of sufficient strength and repute to justify ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees with the historicity they supposedly affirm. Hence this post as the first of a series.

Before beginning, for what it’s worth, I do not see myself as a “mythicist”. I cannot see the point of taking such a stand — either mythicist or historicist — in any debate. (I don’t like adversarial debates anyway. I’m more an exploration and testing type of guy.) What surely matters is the examination of the evidence in attempting to understand Christian origins. The point is to be as intellectually honest as we can wherever the evidence and out testing of our hypotheses lead.

E. P. Sanders on the historicity of the Temple Act of Jesus

Cleansing
Image by djking via Flickr

I will not at this point address all the arguments of E. P. Sanders over what is more widely known as the “cleansing of the temple” scene. Most of his argument is, in effect, an analysis of various proposed reasons or motives for the temple act of Jesus. As such, it assumes historicity of Jesus. To the extent that his argument does address historicity, Sanders is arguing that Jesus must have done something in relation to the temple, otherwise we are left with no explanation for his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. I see this sort of analysis as an exercise in exposition of a literary narrative. It is misguided to assume without external supporting evidence that such an exercise necessarily yields up “evidence” of an “historical fact” external to that text. But for now, I will focus on the assumption of historicity per se, and not address each and every one of Sander’s “extremely common” ‘aprioristic’ points (i.e. ‘if Jesus did X, he must have done Y’) (p.9). I will reserve these for a future post when addressing Sander’s discussion of his method and the nature of a “good hypothesis”.

Sanders “establishes” the historicity of the Temple Act before commencing his attempt to explain its specific nature and motive. Indeed, it is its “indisputable” historicity that he claims is his justification for his chapter 1 discussion.

Sanders begins by noting the problems with gospel passages that narrate the temple incident (p. 9, my formatting):

  1. there is neither firm agreement about the unity and integrity of the basic passages concerning the ‘cleansing of the temple’
  2. nor is there absolute certainty of the authenticity of either or both of the sayings about the destruction of the temple.

Despite all this, it is overwhelmingly probable that Jesus did something in the temple and said something about its destruction. (p.9)

To justify his assertion that it is “overwhelmingly probable” that a real historical event lies behind the narratives, Sanders explains:

The accusation that Jesus threatened the temple is reflected in three other passages: the crucifixion scene (Matt. 27.39f.//Mark 15.29f.); Stephen’s speech (Acts 6.13f.); and with post-Easter interpretation, in John 2.18-22. The conflict over the temple seems deeply implanted in the tradition, and that there was such a conflict would seem to be indisputable. (p.9)

This is called in the literature an example of “multiple, independent attestation”. We have three sources (the synoptic gospels, Acts and John), all presumably independent of one another, saying something like the same thing. This, it is argued, strongly suggests that we have three independent witnesses to a tradition that must be traced back to something Jesus really did do or say.

Later, Sanders again writes (p. 73):

. . . the tradition contained in [John 2.19], Mark 14.58, Matt. 26.61, Mark 15.29, Matt. 27.40, and Acts 6.14: Jesus threatened the destruction of the temple (and perhaps predicted its rebuilding after three days).

We seem here to be in touch with a very firm historical tradition, but there is still uncertainty about precisely what it is.

I will unpack the assumption of the “tradition” as the common source below. For now, I will note only that it is by no means certain that the author of Acts who composed the speech of Stephen was unaware of the Gospel of Mark. Many scholars seem to think that this author also wrote Luke, and that he used Mark in composing his gospel. Nor is it certain that the author or redactor of the Gospel of John responsible for the temple incident in that gospel did not know Mark’s gospel. The common literary structure of the trial narrative in the two gospels is the most obvious point in common between the two. Overviews of modern scholarly discussions of the possibility of John’s knowledge of the synoptic gospels generally and Mark in particular can be found in D. Moody Smith’s John Among the Gospels, available in part online. See in particular chapter 6, The Dissolution of a Consensus.

So scarcely before we can begin a discussion of the historicity of the temple act, Sanders’ suggestion that we have three independent witnesses to a “tradition” is shown not to so secure if we allow the discussions among “mainstream scholars” be our guiding reference point.

Paula Fredriksen’s on the “scholarly consensus” in relation to the Temple Act

Paula Fredriksen certainly accepts some form of temple act as historical, but also has the honesty to write:

In research on the historical Jesus, however, no single consensus interpretation ever commands 100 percent of the scholarly opinion. . . . Other critics, rightly observing the crucial role played by the Temple incident in Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ story — without it, Mark would have difficulty bringing Jesus to the attention of the priests — question whether it ever happened at all. Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention. (p. 210 of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews – my emphasis)

Fredriksen is not ignorant of E. P. Sanders’ views. She cites Jesus and Judaism in her biography and makes frequent use of his ideas throughout her work. I suspect she is thinking in particular of Burton Mack when she writes: “Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention.” Mack’s A Myth of Innocence is also listed in her biography.

Burton Mack’s’ argument for the Temple Act being fiction

The act itself is contrived. Some gesture was required that could symbolize both casting out and taking charge with some level of legitimacy.

Demons would be too much, since Jesus is about to be taken. It would, in any case, have been implausible. But filthy lucre would do just fine. Taxes and the temple treasury had been hot political issues underlying much of the history of conflict between Jerusalem and Rome. The citations from Isaiah and Jeremiah could put Jesus on the safe side of the conflict, motivated by righteous indignation. Jewish authorities (scripture) could be used against Jewish practice. The subtheme of temple robbery, moreover, given with the citation from Jeremiah, was also most convenient. Temple robbery was a stock image of temple degredation in the popular imagination, combining criminal activity with impiety.

The first use of the theme in Mark is Jesus’ application of Jeremiah’s charge to those who brought and sold in the temple (that is, animals for offerings and money at foreign rates of exchange). This subtheme occurs at the arrest where Jesus chides the arresters coming after him as though he, not the money changers, were the temple robber (Mark 14:48). This develops the theme somewhat, playing on the symbolic significance of the temple act and putting the countercharge in his opponent’s mouth. At the trial the question of Jesus’ authority is the more important theme, but the temple act has not been forgotten. Jesus’ authority is related to the kingdom, the substitute for the temple,  thus builds (sic) upon the temple act as symbolically having taken charge. The hearsay about destroying the temple pushes the symbolism of the act in the direction of an exorcism (casting out as destroying). And underlying the charge of blasphemy is desecration, also related allusively to the temple act. When Jesus is crucified then, he is positioned between two robbers, that is, as one who desecrated the temple (Mark 15:27). Thus the subtheme is carried through to the end. It is a fictional theme derived from the scriptural citations.

The temple act cannot be historical. If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence. The anti-temple theme is clearly Markan and the reasons for it can be clearly explained. The lack of any evidence for an anti-temple attitude in the Jesus and Christ traditions prior to Mark fits with the incredible lack of incidence in the story itself. Nothing happens. Even the chief priests overhear his “instruction” and do nothing. The conclusion must be that the temple act is a Markan fabrication. (pp. 291-292, my emphasis. I have also broken up the first paragraph into three parts for easier web-reading.)

(Mack’s statement, “If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence”, addresses a point too rarely absent from “historicist” discussions about Jesus. Remove the scriptural embellishments and other plot devices and there is no ‘person’ left for history to see. This is why it is fallacious to claim that, since mythical associations do not discredit the historicity of ancient characters like Alexander or the Caesars, so therefore they should not discredit the historicity of Jesus. This argument misses the point: remove the mythical associations from Alexander and the Caesars and there is still plenty of ‘historical person’ left over to see. This is not the case with Jesus. But I am addressing here the correct logic of Mack’s argument. Mack himself accepts that there was an historical Jesus. One wonders, however, how Fredriksen or other “mainstream scholars” might have reacted if it had been a “mythicist” who expressed the above argument.)

The Origin of the story: Historical Tradition or Textual Tradition?

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2010/02/01

Response 3: that Jesus’ baptism implies historicity

Continued from Response (2): the Bethlehem-Nazareth fallacies

Baptism of Jesus (Bogojavlenie, ortodox icon)

Image via Wikipedia

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(iii) he was baptised by John

This is another of those awkward elements. Mark and Luke tell a story about Jesus going with other people to be cleansed of their sins by being baptised by John. But this story clearly caused problems for early Christians, as it implies that Jesus was a sinner and that he was subordinate to John (who had his own followers long after his death). So Matthew inserts an element in the story where John tries to object to the idea of baptising the Messiah (Matthew 3:13-15), whereas the Gospel of John removes the baptism altogether and simply has John the Baptist see Jesus and hail him as the Messiah.

If this element was awkward enough for Matthew to try to explain it away and John to whitewash it completely, why is it in the story? If Jesus existed, this element makes sense – it’s in the story because it happened. If he didn’t exist, however, why did the people who made him up (whoever they were) insert something so contrary to the expectations of the Messiah? That makes no sense.

This argument fails to address any grounds for the historicity of Jesus, despite its rhetorical questions and appeal to incredulity at the end. (Previous post discussed the fallacies of rhetorical questions and appeal to incredulity.)

As is conceded in the argument itself, not all evangelists demonstrate embarrassment. The argument as written above appears to suggest that Luke is not embarrassed by the baptism of Jesus any more than was Mark. But that Luke was also embarrassed is indicated by his avoidance of any direct claim that Jesus was baptized by John.

But the key question here is, What is it that embarrasses Matthew, Luke and (assuming he knew Mark) John?

What embarrasses them is the story in the Gospel of Mark itself.

The argument concedes this.

Three of the canonical gospels indicate embarrassment over Mark’s story of the baptism.

There is no evidence that Matthew or Luke (or John) were embarrassed by anything other than the narrative they read in the Gospel of Mark. They are responding to Mark’s baptism narrative.

Mark 1

[4] John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
[5] And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
[6] And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
[7] And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
[8] I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
[9] And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
[10] And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
[11] And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
[12] And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

It is clear that there is not a whiff of embarrassment in Mark’s gospel over the baptism of Jesus by John. It was the absence of embarrassment in Mark’s story that embarrassed the others.

To make this clear:

  1. Mark was not embarrassed to narrate the baptism of Jesus by John
  2. Other evangelists demonstrate apparent embarrassment over Mark’s story by their variations to it

Matthew, for example, adds to Mark’s narrative an excuse to explain why Jesus would undergo a ritual meant for sinners:

Matthew 3:

[13] Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
[14] But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
[
15] And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

Luke manages to avoid saying that John baptized Jesus altogether:

Luke 3:

[2] Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
[3] And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

. . . . . . .

[19] But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
[20] Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
[21] Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
[22] And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

John does not even admit that Jesus was baptized at all.

John 1:

[32] And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
[33] And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

So what biblical scholars sometimes refer to as “the criterion of embarrassment” does not support historicity at all. It only supports their knowledge of Mark’s gospel and their different theological views about what the baptism meant or implied about Jesus.

If Mark was not embarrassed by the baptism of Jesus, and if Mark’s story is the source of the other gospel narratives, then the so-called “awkwardness” of this narrative does not support the historicity of Jesus.

So why was Mark not embarrassed by the baptism of Jesus?

He obviously had a different view of the nature of Jesus. A different christology from what we seen in the other gospels.

Mark’s gospel has either an adoptionist or separationist view of Jesus. Adoptionists believed that Jesus was an ordinary man who was “adopted” by God as his Son when he was baptized by John. Separationists believed that the divine person of the Son of God possessed or inhabited the body of the ordinary man Jesus, so that there were two bodies in Jesus, his physical body/person and the spirit person within him. The Spirit person left the human person at the crucifixion. The evidence for this is well known in the scholarly literature and is a separate discussion.

So it is quite possible that Mark had absolutely no reason to be embarrassed by the baptism story. He may even have actually needed it to add weight to his adoptionist or separationist belief about the nature of Jesus.

That is, the first account of the baptism narrative that we know of could well have been written to explain a particular theological or christological interpretation of the nature of the Son of God and Jesus.

Other evangelists demonstrate a different theological understanding of Jesus that conflicted with Mark’s.

But the only gospel they had was Mark’s. So they set to work to re-write it to suit their own doctrines about Jesus.

This explains:

1. Why the first gospel indicates no embarrassment over the baptism of Jesus
2. Why the later gospels do indicate embarrassment over that first gospel’s lack of embarrassment, and why they attempted to re-write Mark’s version in the ways they did.

They are not evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

The baptism narratives are evidence of theological differences among early Christians.

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

2010/01/28

Response (2): the Bethlehem-Nazareth fallacies

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Historiography,Jesus — Neil Godfrey @ 7:00 pm
Coat of Arms of the city of Nazareth

Image via Wikipedia

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

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(ii) he was from Nazareth

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

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

Coached witnesses are not multiple witness

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

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

Self-testimony can never be enough

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

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

Awkward facts or circular reasoning?

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

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

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

The myth of the general Jewish messianic expectation

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

The narrative contradicts this common assumption

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

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

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

Matt.2:1-4

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

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

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

Literary contortions or routine visions and travels?

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

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

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2009/12/30

Resurrection reversal

For the sake of completion to my recent posts on empty tombs and crucifixions being popular stuff of ancient fiction I should add the most well-known one here, the section from the first century Satyricon by Petronius. (Those recent posts are Popular novels and the gospel narratives and Another Empty Tomb Tale.)

The date

Michael Turton in his Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark includes the following comment on Mark 16:8

v8: Carrier (2004c) observes:

“But we have one definite proof that the resurrection motif in fiction predates the 1st century: the Latin satire of that very genre, The Satyricon by Petronius. This is positively dated to around 60 A.D. (Petronius was killed under the reign of Nero, and makes fun of social circumstances created by the early Caesars) and is a full-fledged travel-narrative just like Acts, with a clear religious motif. However, Petronius is making fun of that motif, and also writing in Latin, yet we know the genre began in the Greek language. Thus, in order for Petronius to move the genre into Latin and make fun of it, it must have pre-existed the time of his writing and been popular enough to draw his attention. Indeed, the satire itself may actually have existed in a Greek form before Petronius took it up: P. Parsons, “A Greek Satyricon?” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 18 (1971) pp. 53ff. It should be noted that Petronius pokes fun at the resurrection theme. Similarly, Plutarch relates a spoof of the motif in popular theatre, where a performing dog acts out its death and resurrection on stage to the delight of the emperor Vespasian (“On the Cleverness of Animals,” Moralia 973e-974a). In order to have something to spoof, the motif must predate the year 80.” in section 140.frg2, where the hero compares his restoration from impotence to the “resurrected Protesilaus,” and attributes it to Mercury’s known role in “bringing back the dead.”

The Widow of Ephesus tale

With permission from, and thanks to, the owner of The Above-average Typist site (Kenny), I am copying from his site the portion of “Chapter Thirteen” from: The Satyricon by Petronius. Translated by Alfred R. Allinson. (1930) pp. 193-218.  This site contains the complete text of the Satyricon.

In this instance we have not an empty tomb, but a “resurrection” from a tomb of a body that ended back on the cross!

But Eumolpus, champion of the distressed and author of the existing harmony, fearing that our cheerfulness should flag for lack of amusing anecdotes, commenced a series of gibes at women’s frailty,– how lightly they fell in love, how quickly they forgot even their own sons for a lover’s sake, asserting there was never yet a woman so chaste she might not be wrought to the wildest excesses by a lawless passion. Without alluding to the old plays and world-renowned examples of women’s folly, he need only instance a case that had occurred, he said, within his own memory, which if we pleased he would now relate. This offer concentrated the attention of all on the speaker, who began as follows:

cxi “There was once upon a time at Ephesus a lady of so high repute for chastity that women would actually come to that city from neighboring lands to see and admire. This fair lady, having lost her husband, was not content with the ordinary signs of mourning, such as walking with hair disheveled behind the funeral car and beating her naked bosom in presence of the assembled crowd; she was fain further to accompany her lost one to his final resting-place, watch over his corpse in the vault where it was laid according to the Greek mode of burial, and weep day and night beside it. So deep was her affliction, neither family nor friends could dissuade her from these austerities and the purpose she had formed of perishing of hunger. Even the Magistrates had to retire worsted after a last but fruitless effort. All mourned as virtually dead already a woman of such singular determination, who had already passed five days without food.

“A trusty handmaid sat by her mistress’s side, mingling her tears with those of the unhappy woman, and trimming the lamp which stood in the tomb as often as it burned low. Nothing else was talked of throughout the city but her sublime devotion, and men of every station quoted her as a shining example of virtue and conjugal affection.
“Meantime, as it fell out, the Governor of the Province ordered certain robbers to be crucified in close proximity to the vault where the matron sat bewailing the recent loss of her mate. Next night the soldier who was set to guard the crosses to prevent anyone coming and removing the robbers’ bodies to give them burial, saw a light shining among the tombs and heard the widow’s groans. Yielding to curiosity, a failing common to all mankind, he was eager to discover who it was, and what was afoot.

Accordingly he descended into the tomb, where beholding a lovely woman, he was at first confounded, thinking he saw a ghost or some supernatural vision. But presently the spectacle of the husband’s dead body lying there, and the woman’s tear-stained and nail-torn face, everything went to show him the reality, how it was a disconsolate widow unable to resign herself to the death of her helpmate. He proceeded therefore to carry his humble meal into the tomb, and to urge the fair mourner to cease her indulgence in grief so excessive, and to leave off torturing her bosom with unavailing sobs. Death, he declared, was the common end and last home of all men, enlarging on this and the other commonplaces generally employed to console a wounded spirit. But the lady, only shocked by this offer of sympathy from a stranger’s lips, began to tear her breast with redoubled vehemence, and dragging out handfuls of her hair, she laid them on her husband’s corpse.

“The soldier, however, refusing to be rebuffed, renewed his adjuration to the unhappy lady to eat. Eventually the maid, seduced doubtless by the scent of the wine, found herself unable to resist any longer, and extended her hand for the refreshment offered; then with energies restored by food and drink, she set herself to the task of breaking down her mistress’s resolution. ‘What good will it do you,’ she urged, ‘to die of famine, to bury yourself alive in the tomb, to yield your life to destiny before the Fates demand it?

“‘Think you to pleasure thus the dead and gone?

“‘Nay! rather return to life, and shaking off this womanly weakness, enjoy the good things of this world as long as you may. The very corpse that lies here before your eyes should be a warning to make the most of existence.’

“No one is really loath to consent, when pressed to eat or live. The widow therefore, worn as she was with several days’ fasting, suffered her resolution to be broken, and took her fill of nourishment with no less avidity than her maid had done, who had been the first to give way.

cxii “Now you all know what temptations assail poor human nature after a hearty meal. The soldier resorted to the same cajolements which had already been successful in inducing the lady to eat, in order to overcome her virtue. The modest widow found the young soldier neither ill-looking nor wanting in address, while the maid was strong indeed in his favor and kept repeating:

“Why thus unmindful of your past delight,
Against a pleasing passion will you fight?”

“But why make a long story? The lady showed herself equally complaisant in this respect also, and the victorious soldier gained both his ends. So they lay together not only that first night of their nuptials, but a second likewise, and a third, the door of the vault being of course kept shut, so that anyone, friend or stranger, that might come to the tomb, should suppose this most chaste of wives had expired by now on her husband’s corpse. Meantime the soldier, entranced with the woman’s beauty and the mystery of the thing, purchased day by day the best his means allowed him, and as soon as ever night was come, conveyed the provisions to the tomb.

“Thus it came about that the relatives of one of the malefactors, observing this relaxation of vigilance, removed his body from the cross during the night and gave it proper burial. But what of the unfortunate soldier, whose self-indulgence had thus been taken advantage of, when next morning he saw one of the crosses under his charge without its body! Dreading instant punishment, he acquaints his mistress with what had occurred, assuring her he would not await the judge’s sentence, but with his own sword exact the penalty of his negligence. He must die therefore; would she give him sepulture, and join the friend to the husband in that fatal spot?

“But the lady was no less tender-hearted than virtuous. ‘The Gods forbid,’ she cried, ‘I should at one and the same time look on the corpses of two men, both most dear to me. I had rather hang a dead man on the cross than kill a living.’ So said, so done; she orders her husband’s body to be taken from its coffin and fixed upon the vacant cross. The soldier availed himself of the ready-witted lady’s expedient, and next day all men marveled how in the world a dead man had found his own way to the cross.”

2009/12/07

The Missing Testimony of the Earliest Gospel

Now that's what I call missing.
Image by robpatrick via Flickr

Of all the debates and controversies surrounding the Gospel of Mark, the one I find the most teasing is its absence from the record when it was supposed to be present.

No explicit clues till mid second century

There is no explicit hint that it was known to anyone until around 140 c.e. when Justin Martyr spoke of the names of three disciples being changed by divine fiat. It is widely assumed that he is referring to the passage in Mark that speaks of this.

140 c.e. is two generations after the date most New Testament scholars suggest it was composed.

But those scholars who still argue that Mark was the last composed of the canonical gospels appear to be a small minority now. At least one exponent of this late date that I have read seems to have a Church-based confessional interest in arguing this point and maintaining the argument for the primacy of Matthew.

But there is little doubt among most scholars, it seems from the range of literature and discussions I have encountered, that Matthew and Luke knew about Mark’s gospel, and used large chunks of it. Some strongly argue that John’s gospel also shows signs of using Mark. So whatever date we assign for Mark’s first appearance into the world, we need to allow room for the other gospels to follow.

Why the need to reuse Mark?

But why would Matthew and Luke lean so heavily on Mark when they clearly had a different agenda about Jesus, his teaching and his disciples to push? (Here I’m thinking within the parameters of my previous post, Tactics of Religious Innovation.) Mark’s gospel was originally almost certainly “Separationist“. (See also my Jesus nobody post.) Jesus the man was just a man, while the Son of God was a heavenly spirit that entered and possessed that man at baptism, but left him at the crucifixion, presumably reuniting with him in the resurrection.

So why would Matthew and Luke, pioneers of what became the orthodoxy, ever rely so heavily on Mark and bother to re-write him? Why not create alternative “correct” gospels without the taint of such an opposing theological agenda?

Does not heavy reliance on Mark imply that Mark was very well and widely known, and that it had a widespread authoritative status? Does it suggest that the authors of the later gospels felt a need to take on Mark and use his gospel against his theology? Was anything as innovative as a new gospel from scratch so unlikely to take hold that it was simply a non-starter? Was Mark so well established that subtly rewriting it, and expanding on it in ways that subtly overturned its message, the only opening for rival theologians?

But if it were so well grounded as the earliest gospel and for some time the only gospel, how is it we hear nothing of it — and that is only a hint of it — until the mid-second century c.e.?

Matthew or Matthew’s matrix?

Another significant fact is that early church documents show a decided preference for the Gospel of Matthew. But this is an interpretation of the evidence. There is a wealth of evidence for early church documents citing passages that also appear in Matthew.

How can we be sure that these sources really are quoting “our Matthew” rather than a collection of sayings, or that they are not simply drawing on a cloud of sayings in the culture that were later set down in Matthew’s gospel?

Mid second century Justin Martyr speaks of the Memoirs of the Apostles, and the little he speaks of their contents matches material in our canonical gospels. And when he describes the birth of Jesus he comes tantalizingly close to something we read in Matthew’s gospel, but he also even more frustratingly moves away from Matthew’s account and brings in other images from his interpretation of the prophets. In fact, his whole birth narrative is, not unlike Matthew’s, openly drawn from his interpretation of the Old Testament prophets. He does not appear to be citing a gospel or Memoir of an Apostle at all.

The earliest indisputable evidence

The earliest overt evidence we have of Mark’s gospel itself is from the first harmony of the four gospels to have been composed. This was by Tatian, sometime between 160 and 175 it is believed. So when we first see Mark clearly we also see the other canonical gospels at the same time — in a gospel harmony. And this is up to three generations after the gospels are widely assumed to have been composed.

One more question before I go

Now another question. Tatian’s harmony is touted as the earliest gospel harmony. Can we really imagine no widely distributed harmony following the appearance of four varying and contradictory gospels until after the passing of three generations?

It is human nature to establish patterns in what we see. We are creatures that like to tie things together as well as blow them apart. We don’t like leaving loose threads or contradictions hanging. I would think a harmony would be the very next publication to follow any general awareness and overlapping acceptances of four different gospels.

It is generally accepted that Mark was written soon after or around the time of the first Judean rebellion against Rome (around 70 c.e.) — the one led by Simon and John. Is it just barely conceivable that it was rather written soon after or around the time of the second Judean rebellion instead (around 135 c.e.) — the one led by Simon Bar Kochba?

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2009/12/06

Tactics of Religious Innovation: Deuteronomy and Gospels

Of the authors of Deuteronomy Bernard M. Levinson writes

. . . their concern was to implement their own agenda: to reflect a major transformation of all spheres of Judaean life — cultically, politically, theologically, judicially, ethically, and economically. The authors of Deuteronomy had a radically new vision of the religious and public polity and sought to implement unprecedented changes in religion and society. Precisely for that reason, the guise of continuity with the past became crucial. The authors of Deuteronomy sought to locate their innovative vision in prior textual authority by tendentiously appropriating texts like the Covenant Code [esp in Exodus], while freely going beyond them in programmatic and substantive terms to address matters like public administration, the role of the monarchy, and the laws of warfare.

Deuteronomy’s reuse of its textual patrimony was creative, active, revisionist, and tendentious. It functioned as a means of cultural transformation. (Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation, p.16)

The authors of Deuteronomy used the very texts they opposed to introduce a contrary set of rules to displace them. The legal code in Exodus knew nothing about an obligatory single cult centre. Sacrifices could be performed wherever the people were — in every place — just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sacrificed in every place where they found God’s presence. So Exodus 20:24:

An altar of earth shall you make for me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record my name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

Twisting your opponent’s words

I cannot repeat here the richness of Levinson’s textual comparison: a broad overview will have to do, so where the detail sounds shallow Levinson is not at fault. The Hebrew for “In every place where” above literally reads: in every [the] place. The Deuteronomist has reused the same words with a slight restructuring in Deuteronomy 12:13-15

Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you. However, you may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates, whatever your heart desires, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which he has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, of the gazelle and the deer alike.

The Deuteronomist appears to be explaining more fully the old law in Exodus while in fact he is contradicting its basic assumption and instruction. One of his tools for accomplishing this is to reuse but also restructure the targeted phrase in the Exodus law that he seeks to overturn.

The degree of technical scribal sophistication involved is remarkable. (p.33) (more…)

2009/06/07

Joseph of Arimathea – recasting a faithless collaborator as a disciple of Jesus

Updated 8th June with postscript


Dr James McGrath has an interesting take on Joseph of Arimathea in that he interprets his first appearance in the gospel record as one of the many Jews who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus — and his burial. Only in subsequent gospel narratives is his character evolved into that of a disciple of Jesus.

I like this view because it adds some detail to my own understanding of the role of Joseph of Arimathea in Mark, as spelled out in earlier posts:

  1. Jewish Scriptures in Mark
  2. The post-70 c.e. provenance of the tomb metaphor
  3. The mocking of Joseph and Pilate in Mark

James McGrath in The Burial of Jesus: History & Faith is addressing a very different audience from any of my posts. My overall impression is that he is writing for believers who generally have a black and white (fundamentalist) understanding of the Bible and their faith, and is attempting to gently lead them to open their minds to the validity of interpretations of the Bible that (faith-based) scholarship opens up. The “historical methods” he discusses as tools of analyzing the texts of the gospels are, as far as I am aware, methods used almost exclusively among biblical scholars (not among historians per se) and that are expected to carry such heavy weights of “probable proofs” for the occurrence of certain facts. If I am mistaken I would appreciate being better informed.

Those for whom I imagine myself writing, on the other hand, are fellow amateur explorers of the origins and natures of the texts and faith that has been so pivotal in shaping our culture and minds, and to do so with the aid of secular historical and literary tools. And though amateur, I do feel I have advantages that enable me to introduce to general audiences some of the findings found in otherwise hard-to-access scholarly books and journals.

I also see that James McGrath has a new book coming out, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context. I’m still working through notes on Margaret Barker, Charles Talbert and in particular most recently John Ashton (Understanding the Fourth Gospel) and others that flesh out the complexities of Jewish religious beliefs pre 70 c.e. and that our canonical texts attempt to hide. Looking forward to catching up on The Only True God, too.

So back to this particular discussion of Joseph of Arimathea

Mark 15

[42] And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
[43] Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counseller, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
[44] And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.
[45] And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
[46] And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
[47] And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

Two points here, especially if read casually with the parallel narratives in the other gospels in mind, can lead to the impression Joseph was doing a Good Thing as a would-be disciple of Jesus. Mark describes him as “an honourable counseller” and one who “also waited for the kingdom of God.”

As McGrath points out, though, all “good Jews”, not only followers of Jesus, “waited for the kingdom of God.”

McGrath may have also been implying that one needs only compare Jesus’s hostile debates with other honourable figures in the Jewish community, one of whom he could say, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”, to recall that being an honourable pillar in Jerusalem, and not being far from the kingdom, left one as far removed from salvation as the rich man who was also loved by Jesus but who departed very sorrowfully to realize he could not enter. So close, yet so far. (See Mark 10-13)

McGrath points to the reason for the introduction of Joseph at this point. It was to ensure the observance of the sabbath. Thus the reason Mark gives for Joseph’s act has nothing to do with devotion to Jesus, but is all about religious scruples. Compare Josephus’ words in his Jewish War 2.5.2 (2.317):

. . . although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.

(I am increasingly fascinated at how much of the historical background to the earliest gospel is echoed in with as much or as little adornment as found in Josephus. But let’s stick to this topic for now.)

If we read this account within the parameters of the rest of Mark alone (that is, not through the eyepieces of later gospels), then it is a logical exposition to read Joseph acting with the same attention to law-abiding godliness as the Pharisees, the chief priests and other leaders had been diligent throughout the gospel to enforce the strict observance of the sabbath, to avoid a trial and execution during the feast, and the requirement for due process (two or more witnesses). By the time the reader is has followed the narrative up to near the final chapter of this gospel, she is surely expected to know that ritual-law-observance is to be equated with the old wineskins, with blindness, and with enmity against Jesus. This has, after all, been a dominant message from the earliest chapters.

McGrath tellingly notes that Joseph acted apart from the followers of Jesus who were present. He presumably had his servants wrap the body and lay it in the tomb while the women who had followed Jesus stood back as bystanders. Such a scene raises very awkward questions if the reader was meant to think of Joseph as having sympathies with Jesus’ followers. Joseph does not involve them at all. And Joseph does nothing more than the bare minimum to get the body down from the cross and into a tomb before sunset in order to comply with the sabbath law.

I like to add another allusion I suspect Mark was directing at his original readers. McGrath sees Joseph’s waiting for the Kingdom of God as saying little more than he was a typically devout Jew of the time. I think Mark meant more than that here. The narrative surrounding Joseph’s request is strongly focussed on the surprising fact of the unexpected suddenness of Jesus’ death. Pilate marvelled at the news from Joseph, and felt compelled to confirm it through his centurion.

Just as the disciples had been caught out unprepared when Jesus was taken in Gethsemane, so do the Roman Pilate and centurion, and the Jewish counsellor Joseph, find themselves having to address the suddenness of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus had warned in his famous Olivet Prophecy that all were to be on guard and watch, for they knew not when the day would come. The only ones who were/are aware of the day of the Lord are the readers, the insiders.  No-one in the narrative knows that Jesus made his “exodus” after the earth had been in supernatural darkness for three hours, and from that time on the old order was overthrown (note the tearing of the temple veil). The women, like Joseph, are just as blind and mindful of the things (the flesh) of this world when they return to the tomb to anoint a dead body.

They were all waiting for the kingdom. But they had all missed it when it was ushered in through the mock Roman Triumph (See Schmidt’s Jesus Triumphal March to Crucifixion).

If Mark did take his imagery for the crucifixion scenes from the Jewish Scriptures, in particular from Isaiah, as is widely believed, then we have further reason to think that all the above was indeed in the forefront of his mind, and that he was deliberately introducing a character to fulfil the following:

And they made his grave with the wicked
But with the rich at his death.  . . .
(Isaiah 53:9)

Similarly, the tomb being described as a hewn rock is a metaphor for the destruction of the Temple for the sins of the nation in an earlier passage in Isaiah

. . . you have hewn a sepulchre here,
as he who hews himself a sepulchre on high,
who carves a tomb for himself in a rock . . . .
(Isaiah 22:16 — same Greek words in both Mark and LXX for ‘carved/hewn’ and ‘tomb’ and ‘rock’)

The texts from which Mark’s gospel drew for his scenes of entombment in a carved out rock are laden with motifs of the wickedness of Jerusalem. This is also surely suggestive of how to interpret Mark, here.

Comparing Matthew

Matthew 27

[57] When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:
[58] He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
[59] And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
[60] And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
[61] And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

McGrath here points out the earliest signs of Josephs’ transformation and a deliberate departure from Mark’s account. Matthew has removed Joseph from the council that condemned Jesus, and describes him rather as a rich man who could afford his own tomb. But more than that, of course, Matthew directly calls him a disciple.

Other noteworthy changes McGrath draws attention to are the emphasis on the cleanliness of the cloth and that fact that the tomb was a new one. The tomb was not only a new one, but it was that of Joseph himself. There can thus be no doubt that it had been used for any other corpse.

McGrath sees historical similitude here. Mark’s narrative could be interpreted as Joseph doing a rush job to get Jesus into a tomb as quickly as possible, with the assumption that he used a tomb large enough for several bodies and that was positioned near the crucifixion site for just this purpose — disposing of crucified bodies quickly when required.

He still has not been able to bring the women into the action, however. McGrath sees this as a clue that Matthew really was not a disciple and that this fact is given away by his omitting to include the women in the act of burial. I think a far simpler explanation is that Matthew still needs to have a good reason to get the women to the tomb the next day after the sabbath, so he is reserving them for that moment. Or if Joseph himself did not actually participate in the burial, but his servants only, as McGrath suggests, then why not also allow for the women to refrain from defiling themselves on the sabbath eve? Or Matthew is taking the trouble to re-write those portions that he feels necessary to present a more favourable picture of Joseph of Arimathea. They women’s turn will come next. To assume historicity machinations at work in the mind of the author seems to me to be adding unfounded complexities upon unfounded assumptions.

Comparing Luke

Luke 23

[50] And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counseller; and he was a good man, and a just:
[51] (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them
;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
[52] This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
[53] And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
[54] And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
[55] And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.

Luke retains Joseph’s counseller status, but adds the unambiguous “he was a good man and just”, and that he “had not consented to the counsel” to crucify Jesus. Again, like Matthew, however, he stresses the fact that the tomb was not a mass deposit for crucified bodies. It was new, uncorrupted. Like Matthew, Luke was stressing that Jesus was not dumped in a common dug out for crucified criminals.

Comparing John

John 19

[38] And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
[39] And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
[40] Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
[41] Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
[42] There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Now Joseph of Arimathea is not only a disciple, but a secret one. And not only a secret disciple, but a companion of Nicodemus who had also come to Jesus secretly by night.

Not only does John here concede that the tomb was close by the area of crucifixion, and thus otherwise potentially a common grave for criminals, but stresses once again that the sepulchre was both new and that it had never yet contained a body.

And since John is about to rewrite the easter morning narrative by removing the group of women coming to anoint Jesus’ corpse, he has instead both Joseph and Nicodemus wrapping the body of Jesus with a hundred pounds of spices.

So what was wrong with Mark’s narrative?

Why did the subsequent evangelists find so much to change about Mark’s account of Joseph of Arimathea?

McGrath’s explanation is plausible at one level: Mark’s stark account left open the interpretation that the tomb was a common one for crucified criminals, and that Joseph himself was not necessarily any more venerable than any other law-abiding Jewish leader.

Later evangelists might understandably have re-written Mark’s ending in a number of ways to give it a more exultant and joyful finale. This meant adding resurrection appearances to the disciples, and allowing the women to see the resurrected Jesus, too. It also meant reverentially treating the body of Jesus with the hands of a good man and just, those of none other than a secret disciple of Jesus.

The reason they did this was to cover up the embarrassment of Jesus being left to be buried by a non-follower, and possibly even in a common grave for criminals.

McGrath sees at work here the criterion of historical embarrassment, or embarrassment over a fact that could not be denied. The fact that later evangelists attempt to hide the “facts” as suggested by Mark is evidence for the general historicity of Mark’s account.

I have to disagree. First question that the above scenario raises is, Why did the supposed attempts to hide the historical facts only appear to begin with the gospel authors subsequent to Mark?

If the fact was both undeniable and embarrassing, and if there had been decades of oral transmission before the first gospel was penned, surely one would expect the “cover up” or “revisionist versions” to have begun before any of the gospels came to be written.

But what we do find is that with the first evidence of this narrative in Mark’s gospel, we see the possibility of coherently interpreting the details (through the context of earlier narratives and sayings in the same gospel) in such a way as to give the Joseph of Arimathea anecdote a theological function that is consistent with earlier sayings and episodes in that gospel. All the faithless come together at the end: Pilate and the centurion, the Jewish mob and the Jewish leader, the women and reference to the disciples. They have all missed the end of this present age and the ushering in of the new with the paradoxical exaltation of Christ. Only the readers understand the meaning of all these events along with the darkness at noon and the tearing apart of the Temple veil.

What embarrassed later gospel author’s was Mark’s narrative. They were also embarrassed by his Jesus who only became a son of God at his baptism when possessed by the Spirit, and the total failure of his disciples. The embarrassment is not with history, but with the theological messages of the first written gospel.

I thank Dr James McGrath for raising his view of Joseph of Arimathea in an earlier post of mine and giving me the opportunity to read his views. It is nice to read where others have also trodden views that have been similar to mine, and to learn new details, despite differences at other levels of interpretation.


P.S. — added 8th June:

John the Baptist was buried by his disciples. I suspect we have here enough incentive for certain Christian schools or factions to have their leader likewise buried by a devotee, even if necessarily in secret.


2009/04/21

Gospel of Luke, reconciler of the Herod and Pilate gospel narratives?

Further thoughts from earlier post on rival gospel traditions. . . . .

It is easy to overlook that the gospels of John and Luke say that the Jews themselves, not Roman soldiers, crucified Jesus with Pilate’s permission. This is as is narrated in the Gospel of Peter and elsewhere, as per the above post.

Luke also, like the Gospel of Peter, assigns Herod a leading role in the circumstances of Christ’s death. In the following I’m assuming, as I have presented arguments elsewhere, both a late (second century) date for the gospels, and Luke being the last gospel written (as per Matson, Shellard, et al).

I am exploring here the possibility that while John was strongly influenced by the eastern narratives, it was the author of the Gospel of Luke who, after many who had composed narratives before him, attempted the most “catholic” (albeit anti-Marcionite and anti-Ebionite/Nazarene) gospel. Luke is famous for his introduction in which he declares that “many” have preceded him.  This alone points to a late date for the gospel.

If, as per Tyson et al, canonical Luke was composed in the mid second century, it is possible that the Gospel of Peter was known to its author.

John and Luke declare the Jews carried out the crucifixion:

John 19:14-16

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priest answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

(Thanks to Joe Wallack, who in a comment on the earlier post, alerted me to this John passage that prompted the thoughts of this post.)

Luke 23:24-36

And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led him away, . . . .

Taking this passage in Luke “seriously”, as many like to say, will also prompt us to read more literally the passage in Acts where the Jews are declared to be the ones who crucified Jesus. After all, Acts was very likely written by the same final author of canonical (not the original) Luke (as discussed in my notes on Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts).

Acts 3:13-15

. . . his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life . . .

Mark and Matthew say the Romans did it

Of course it is the narratives of Mark and Matthew that have carried the day and through which we too easily read John and Luke. We are also persuaded to read all four gospels through the perspectives of Mark and Matthew because they appear to be comport more closely to what would have been the historical reality of the event — if it were historical.

Mark 15:15-16

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.

Matthew 27:24-27

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.

The Role of Herod vis a vis Pilate

The Gospel of Peter, and other writings associated more with the eastern Roman empire, agree with John and Luke. But they also say that Herod was the ruler primarily responsible for Christ’s execution.

The earliest gospel, Mark, makes three mentions of Herod or his supporters. Twice Mark speaks of the Pharisees and Herodians colluding to trap Jesus. The first time Jesus escaped their joint plot to kill him, and the last time he outwitted their envoys in a game of riddles:

Mark 3:6

And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

Mark 12:13

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.

In between Herod executed John the Baptist as a foreshadowing of the fate awaiting Jesus, and subsequently confused Jesus for John. (Mark 6

At the end of the gospel when Jesus is on trial the Pharisees and Herodians are nowhere to be seen. Their narrative function has been fulfilled. The climax of the gospel is when the Jerusalem and Roman leaders, the representatives of Jerusalem and Rome, take centre stage.

Matthew has nothing to add to what is written in Mark about Herod’s role.

Mounting anti-semitism

But Matthew does introduce a new anti-semitic twist. In Mark, Pilate relished the chance to please the Jews and deliver Jesus up to be crucified (see Mark 15:15 quoted above). Matthew changes Pilate to a “horribly nice” weakling and coward who declares himself innocent of the blood of Jesus, and who orders Jesus to be crucified (by his own soldiers) simply because he is haplessly intimidated by the loud noises from the crowd and the clenched teeth of their religious leaders. It is the Jews who let Pilate off the hook with “clean hands” by declaring,

His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matthew 27:25)

John’s gospel carries us further into the pit of anti-semitism. Of the Jews Jesus in GJohn says:

Ye are of your father the devil (John 8:44)

John’s gospel regularly identifies the persecutors of Jesus as “the Jews”.

The Gospel of Peter has been interpreted by many as firmly in the same swamp of anti-semitism as John and Matthew. I have prepared a table where one can see easily where and how the Gospel of Peter compares in this and other respects to the canonical gospels. See Gospel of Peter Compared with Canonical Gospels.

Gospel anti-semitism climaxes with Herod replacing Pilate in centre-stage?

At the same time the Gospel of Peter has removed Pilate from centre stage to make room for the Jewish “king”, Herod, to take direct responsibility, with the rest of the Jewish judges and people, for crucifying Christ.

Gospel of Peter, 1:1-2

…but of the Jews no one washed his hands, neither did Herod nor any one of his judges. Since they were [un]willing to wash, Pilate stood up. 2 Then Herod the king orders the Lord to be taken away, saying to them “Do what I commanded you to do to him.”

Enter canonical Luke

Luke’s gospel concedes, with Mark’s, that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Unlike Mark’s gospel, however, Luke’s gospel portrays an uncowered Jesus who brazenly declares that Herod cannot kill him, at least not for a while.

Luke 13:31-33

The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.

Then, just as in the Gospel of Peter, Luke presents Herod in Jerusalem at the time of the final Passover.

Luke 23:7-12

And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.

The Gospel of Peter paints a friendly relationship between Pilate and Herod. The disagreement over the justice of killing Jesus was not a big enough obstacle to come between them that way. In GPeter Herod addresses Pilate as “Brother”. Luke’s gospel points to the same relationship unfolding:

Luke 23:12

And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.

And as per the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Luke concurs that Herod at some point not only stood in judgment upon Jesus, but also

Luke 23:8-11

And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.  Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.

Compare Gospel of Peter 3:1-2 which describes the Jewish soldiers of Herod treating Jesus:

They took out the Lord and kept pushing him along as they ran; and they would say, “Let’s drag the son of God since we have him in our power.” And they threw a purple robe around him and made him sit upon the judgment seat and said, “Judge justly, King of Israel.” . . .

Luke has more to say about Herod’s encounter with Jesus, but unfortunately a corresponding section is missing from the Gospel of Peter.

It seems a nice fit to have the Gospel of Luke at the end of a long trajectory of gospels that

1. began in a Pauline-like gospel with Rome and Jerusalem colluding equally in the murder of the Christ (GMark),

2. reacted with a legalistic bend where Jesus was portrayed as a new Moses, while lurching towards anti-semitism that distanced Pilate from blood-guilt (GMatthew),

3. dived deeper into anti-semitism, while incorporating other aspects of the eastern/Asian Passover tradition, and in particular replacing the Roman executioners with Jewish ones, as per GPeter (GJohn)

(thanks to M. W. Nordbakke for alerting me to the common thread uniting the Gospels of John and Peter here in a comment on the earlier post)

4. Pulled the Roman governor out of the direct line of responsibility altogether by having the Jewish soldiers under Herod’s command, yet retaining a Psalm 2 type collusion between Jewish and gentile rulers (GPeter)

5. Restored Rome’s authority, but still gave the direct Christ-killer role to the Jewish soldiers, and still found room to maintain some of the Herod “tradition”, while also critiquing Matthew’s Mosaic legalistic type of Jesus, and perhaps even finding a place for elements of a birth narrative from the Proto Gospel of James (but that’s all another story) (GLuke).

And I can’t prove a bit of it. At least not yet. But it’s a start for something new to think about. :-)



2009/04/17

3 types of miracles: Mark’s, Matthew’s and Mary MacKillop’s

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 11:21 pm
Tags: ,

Comparing miracles in Mark and Matthew

Getting physical

The first healing miracle narrated in the earliest canonical gospel (Mark) says that Jesus physically lifted the patient up before she was healed:

But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. (Mark 1:30-31)

For the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who copied much of his material from the Gospel of Mark, this was apparently not a fitting way for a god on earth to do things. To his mind, a mere touch ought to suffice:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. (Matthew 8:14-15)

Through spiritual warfare

The second healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark was of the leper.

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with anger (orgistheis), put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (Mark 1:40-41)

Bible translations follow other manuscripts that read splanchistheis, meaning compassion, in place of orgistheis (anger) for obvious reasons. But the authors of Matthew and Luke who copied Mark here omit this word, strongly suggesting that what they found in the original also sounded offensive to them.

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

Newcomers to this original text (according to more than one criteria used, including priority being given to the more difficult reading) of Mark’s gospel will find it easier to embrace when they recall Mark’s Jesus from the beginning is unlike any found in the other gospels. Thus from the first Mark’s Jesus is possessed (entered into, not “lighted upon” as in Matthew) by the spirit at baptism and is then “cast out” by that same spirit into the wilderness. At every point subsequently this Jesus is seen breaking apart the present “cosmos”, or world order — whether by

  • casting out demons with violence and torment,
  • wrestling with the very elements of nature (waves, storms, wind),
  • restoring physical wellness by strange charms, physical applications or conflict with contrary (demonic, spiritual) forces in the background
  • denying death through crucifixion.

Healing only Many or healing All?

Gospel of Mark’s next reference to healing is a less personal en masse occasion:

And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, . . . And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, . . . (Mark 1:32-34)

Matthew’s author is apparently offended by the suggestion in Mark that of “all” who came to Jesus only “many” were healed, so he changed that to a more satisfying:

When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick . . . (Matthew 8:16)

We get the picture

Where Jesus in the Gospel of Mark heals either

  • through strenuous or dramatic physical actions and applications
  • or through conflict with spiritual ‘attitudes’ and forces,
  • or heals only “many” but never “all” of those who come to him,

Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew heals like a serenely supreme being

  • with a mere touch,
  • or in a context where “bad attitudes” and evil forces are nothing more than a foil for the goodness of Jesus,
  • or he heals all who come to him, leaving none behind.

Matthew was helping Mark’s Jesus evolve into the supremely aloof being we associate with him today. Mark’s Jesus was the being who came to tear apart and overturn the old order as one possessed from the beginning. Matthew’s Jesus was heavenly aloof and all compassionate while in the flesh and only had to show up for evil fell to fall away before him or for all to be healed.

Enter Mary MacKillop (more…)

2009/04/11

Rival gospel traditions: Herod or Pilate the executioner of Christ?

I listened in on a Good Friday service in St Joseph’s church in Singapore last night, while standing amidst hundreds of others holding magic or holy candles, and during the reading of the Gospel of John’s passion narrative I was struck to suddenly hear echoes of thematic details also found in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter.

Now the Gospel of Peter is generally taken to have been written after the Gospel of John, but some have dated the Gospel of John towards the middle of the second century, and others have dated the Gospel of Peter to around the same period. What is a more tenable scenario, however, is that the “traditions” behind the Gospel of Peter do go back quite early. (See various online sources, including Wikipedia.)

I have compiled a comparative table of the Gospel of Peter with the canonical gospels.

Most of my argument assumes a late (very late – second century) dating of the gospels. I believe I can defend this view, and argue that most (not all) earlier datings rest more on apologetic assumptions and interpretations than hard evidence.

The common explanation for the variant view that Herod crucified Jesus is that it was an outgrowth of rising anti-semitism. That may be true. But there might also be another explanation – that the Herod story was the original one, and a more complex narrative involving Roman involvement was a later evolution. Either model will do — my views of rival narratives do not rely on either one.

One of the most significant differences is that in the Gospel of Peter it is Herod, the King of the Jews, who orders the crucifixion of Jesus, not the Roman Pilate. Pilate is clearly narrated as leaving Herod to carry out this deed. It is Jewish guards, not Roman soldiers, who do the dirty work. The same narrative appears to be in the mind of the Christian author who wrote the vision in The Ascension of Isaiah

And after this the adversary envied him and roused the children of Israel against him, not knowing who he was, and they delivered him to the king [presumably Herod], and crucified him. . . . (Ascension 11:19)

Justin Martyr, a church father who spent much time in the eastern churches (Syria, Samaria. . . ), who wrote about the middle of the second century, also believed it was Herod, not Pilate, who crucified Jesus. See my comparative table of Justin and the canonical and apocryphal gospels for details.

We also have the Slavonic Josephus with a Christian insertion that must be traced back to an eastern tradition that Pilate was bribed by the Jews (with 30 pieces of silver) to hand Jesus over to them for execution.

The teachers of the Law were [therefore] envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death. And he, after he had taken [the money], gave them consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose. And they took him and crucified him according to the ancestral law.

See my earlier blog post Gospel of Peter and the Slavonic Josephus for discussion.

The Acts of Peter, from Asia Minor, may be assuming a similar narrative when we read:

Thou didst harden the heart of Herod . . . . thou didst give boldness unto Caiaphas, that he should deliver our Lord Jesus Christ unto the unrighteous multitude (Acts Peter VIII)

Eastern and Western rival narratives?

Was it an eastern “gospel tradition” that it was “the Jews” under their king Herod who crucified Jesus? Was the gospel tradition that became canonical, that Pilate killed Jesus, of western (Roman?) derivation? Was the eastern tradition expanded by what became the canonical gospel “tradition”, with the gospels of Mark and (canonical) Luke being western, even Roman, in origin? The Gospel of Matthew, I think, also assumed prominent status among western theologians. And was not John’s gospel on the cusp of the two — being traced to Asia Minor centres that were crossroads of dialogue between east and west?

Both the Gospels of John and Peter place heavy emphasis on the culpability of the Jews as Jews for the death of Jesus. “The Jews” are addressed as a race apart from Jesus.

Both the Gospels of John and Peter place extra heavy emphasis on Jesus’ death being the fulfilment of scriptures. (All the gospels do this to lesser and greater extents, but this trope is given particular emphasis in these two gospels, I think.)

But the alarm started ringing when I heard in the reading Pilate twice attempting to pass Jesus back to the Jews for punishment, with each attempt proving to be a narrative foil to explain why it really was Pilate, and not the Jews, who took over the role of crucifying Pilate.

Then Pilate said to them, “You take him and judge him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” (John 18:31)

Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “You take him and crucify him, for I find no fault in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” Therefore when Pilate heard that saying he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium. . . (John 19:6-9)

Why does “John” introduce these exchanges? Is he attempting to rebut an alternative gospel tradition that it was indeed the Jews who crucified Christ?

Is he attempting to tackle head on what the Gospel of Mark had attempted to dismiss with a sideways glance? GMark told a story that while Herod (or Herodians) had sought to kill Jesus, Jesus eluded them.

Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against [Jesus], how they might destroy him. But Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea. (Mark 3:6-7)

The Gospel of Luke (which in its canonical form I often suspect is later than the other three gospels) addresses the issue with a revised narrative insert that might appear to explain how the confusion arose in the first place:

When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.  And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.  And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.  Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.  And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.  And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. (Luke 23:6-12)

The advantage of the Pilate narrative?

If this was the case, and there was a rival narrative in which the Jews, led by their King and High Priest, crucified Jesus, how might we account for the eventual takeover by the canonical version?

One answer may be alluded to in another post of mine in which I discussed thoughts arising from two strange bedfellows: John Carroll’s The Existential Jesus and Michael Patella’s The Lord of the Cosmos. See Pilate and the Cosmic Order in Mark.

The canonical narrative with its complex interrelationship of Jewish and Roman court hearings is certainly a more sophisticated structure than the more direct linear tale of Herod killing Jesus. This alone might reasonably suggest it was of later origin. Add to this the apparent references in Mark, Luke and John (cited above) that appear to be in dialogue with another tradition. But we can’t be sure.

I would think that the canonical version involving Rome had the long-term sustainable advantage of bringing into the myth the notion of Jesus’ death being linked to a new cosmic order on earth (not just in heaven), and involved the spiritual overthrow of all earthly powers. Pilate, as the representative of Rome, and the close involvement of the Roman soldiers in his death, alongside Jewish culpability, broadened the message of the gospel into a well, more “catholic” one. It was more than an anti-semitic diatribe. Pilate’s reluctance, the centurion’s recognition of Jesus, the soldier’s role in opening up another “sign” of Jesus by piercing his side, — these introduced somewhat relatively more neutral (merely doing the job, not motivated by envy like the Jews) and “ready to be converted” non-Jews into a central gospel role.

The role of Rome also gave the gospel a clearer focus on “the cosmos”, the world, represented by Rome, and its leading role that emerged through the second century.

Besides, the gospels of Matthew and John preserved enough that was of value for anti-semitic fodder without the need for the blunter Gospel of Peter.

St Josephs on Good Friday, Singapore, where the above thoughts suddenly hit me :-)

St Josephs on Good Friday, Singapore, where the above thoughts suddenly hit me :-)

2009/04/01

How the Gospel of Matthew Converted the Gospel of Mark’s Disciples

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,New Testament,The Twelve — Neil Godfrey @ 12:48 am

Let’s imagine Mark was the first gospel to be written, and let’s imagine a reader had only the Jewish scriptures in mind with which to compare it. Just suppose there was no prior oral tradition by which the narrative had come to the readers in any form at all. Here (indented in black) are the passages from the Jewish scriptures that I suggest such a discrete or original reading of Mark 8:16-21 would bring to the mind . . . . (more…)

2008/06/20

Another reason for Luke to have broken up Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts,Marcion,New Testament,Q,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 9:19 pm
Tags:

If the author of the Gospel of Luke knew Matthew’s gospel then how can one explain his decision to break up the aesthetic and noble unity of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount? There are responses to this question that do not persuade everyone. (The idea that Luke did not like long sermons runs into a problem when one reads long sermons and speeches in Acts.) If, however, we think of canonical Luke as an anti-Marcionite work (as discussed in recent posts on Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts), then something about the Sermon on the Mount immediately stands out as a problem for an author writing a tract to trounce Marcionism.

Matthew 5:

20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:

27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

31. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife,

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all;

38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:

43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Even though many today read the whole tenor of Matthew’s gospel and the Sermon on the Mount as pro-Torah, the above pattern of sayings cannot help but at the very least suggest a pro-Marcionite teaching about Jesus and the Law. Marcionism taught that Jesus came from a higher god than the Creator god of the Jews, and that the law of that Creator god of Israel was deficient compared with the true teachings of the hitherto unknown god. (more…)

2008/06/17

Matthew’s “misunderstanding” of Mark’s miracle stories

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 8:19 am

I have no idea, of course, if the author of Matthew’s Gospel really “misunderstood” the miracle stories in the Gospel of Mark or understood them all too well and for that reason chose to recast them with a different meaning and agenda.

Either way, the result has been that Mark’s original nuances that alert the knowing reader to the “parabolic” meaning of his miracle stories have been lost beneath the weight of the literalist versions of these miracles by the subsequent evangelists.

The way the author of GMatthew (Gospel of Matthew) tells the story of Jesus walking on water, for example, borders on being a farcical parody of the version found in GMark. This post, by the way, is really a footnote to my previous post in which I would like to think I showed that the Markan version is demonstrably a parable that coheres, through certain repeated “throw away” words and phrases, with the entire gospel being a fictitious (but by no means meaningless) parable.

Compare Mark’s and Matthew’s versions (even in English translation the pertinent differences are clear enough). First, Mark. I have highlighted in bold type the differences:

And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.
And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.
And he saw them straining in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.
For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.

And Matthew’s

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

The changes to Mark’s story

Note the main differences. Matthew has removed from Mark’s narrative those lines that also cause the most difficulty for modern readers:

  1. Mark’s statement that Jesus was going to “pass by” the disciples,
  2. and the note that this miracle had something to do with the understanding of the miracle of the 5 loaves feeding the 5000.

Another significant change is that Matthew has removed Mark’s implication that the disciples were “sore amazed” after the wind settled and calm returned.

He has also removed Mark’s image of the disciples “straining at rowing” against the wind, and change the image to one of the boat being tossed by the waves instead.

Mark’s original meaning

In my previous discussion of this miracle I showed how each one of those features, removed by Matthew, placed Mark’s version of the miracle within the broader theological context of the entire gospel.

That Jesus would have passed the disciples (and then have gone on before them) is a regular motif with metaphorical significance throughout Mark, from the first callings of the disciples through to the last message to be delivered to them. Having already called his disciples Jesus was expecting them to continue to follow him.

That the disciples were said to be “straining at rowing” here recalls the time when Jesus first called the disciples. The focus here, as then, is on the physical efforts of the disciples. (Then they were working at trying to catch fish, mending their nets, and sitting at the tax collection post. Now they are in serious difficulties as they attempt to row against the wind.) Both Jesus and the disciples are going in the same direction, to Bethsaida (= “the house of the fisherman/fishing”). Jesus had called them to become fishers of men. It is (ought to be) clear to the reader that if the disciples want to also reach Bethsaida all they need to do is climb out of the boat that is taking them nowhere and follow Jesus.

Read this way (which, as explained in my previous post, is consistent with the several other “follow me”, “passing by” and “going before” motifs throughout the gospel), it is clear to that Mark is writing the story as a “parable” or metaphor. Similarly Jerusalem is the geographic metaphor for the cross, and Galilee for wherever the Kingdom of God is “at hand”. The disciples needed to take up their cross with Jesus, and not follow or stand “afar off”, if they were to follow Jesus back to Galilee. The message is not for or about the twelve disciples in the gospel. The disciples are a mere part of a story that is directed at Mark’s audience. What the disciples decide to do at the end is of no account for the author, hence such a scene is omitted from the end. The author’s story is talking about what his audience needs to do.

If Mark’s audience had clamoured to ask him whether the disciples in the end followed Jesus to Galilee, or if the disciples really did have the power to walk on water, I can imagine Mark rolling his eyes in despair at the total failure of his narrative to have made its point. He would probably retort:

If you don’t understand the miracle of the loaves how can you have any idea what I’ve been writing about!

Do you really think my gospel is about bread? Or water? Or even Galilee?

Matthew’s Hollywood action blockbuster version

One member of such a “blind” audience could have been Matthew, or whoever was the author of the gospel bearing his name.

Matthew either did not understand, or chose to delete, the metaphorical aspects of the story. He turned it into a story of a literal miracle.

The symbolism of Bethsaida as the destination was removed by excising the destination entirely. His story would go a close-up of a miracle shot, without any broader “parabolic” narrative that might detract from this.

Next to go was the image of the disciples rowing so uselessly against a mere headwind. Audiences would be bored. Much more dramatic was tossing up the waves, putting the boat and lives of the disciples in peril. The original did not have nearly enough danger for excitement. It was just a boring tale of a bunch of men rowing themselves to a standstill in the wind. Matthew preferred the bigger, more spectacular Hollywood adaptation.

As for the original’s having Jesus about to pass them by, that was definitely out. It made no sense to Matthew. Audiences would be confused. Jesus was the hero, their saviour and was doing a great magic trick here to prove he was the Son of God. So Matthew interpreted it. He wouldn’t just ignore his disciples. Matthew had no idea, or rejected, the real message of the original. He wanted a Jesus who would do great miraculous feats to impress his gospel characters and gospel readers alike. And since he is also establishing Peter as the lead apostle, he even brings Peter in to share a little of the miracle limelight. For Matthew, it is the fantastic miracle of walking on the water that is all consuming of his imagination. Mark’s message is lost under his literalism.

The dramatic end. Finally, when the magic show of the duo walking on water was all over, when they finally got back into the boat, the disciples responded appropriately to such a grand miracle worker. They fell down and worshipped him as the Son of God. Only a Son of God could walk on water, after all. And that was all the message that Matthew could, or would, grasp.

Contrast Mark’s ending. The disciples still did not know who Jesus was. They could only be “sore amazed” and “wonder” — but not at the way he had come to them walking on water, or at least not only that. They were amazed that as soon as he entered the boat the wind stopped. This was exactly what amazed them once before. Jesus was able to control the wind and even stop a storm at sea. “Who was this man who could overpower both demons and the wind?” they wondered in awe.

But this is too subtle and not nearly flattering enough of the twelve apostles for Matthew. Being amazed at the change in weather is also an anti-climax if one is trying to follow an action story which is meant to be taken literally.

Arthouse versus blockbuster

Mark’s gospel was an arthouse film script. It’s audience appeal was always destined to be limited. Even today it is largely misunderstood as a bit “weird” or “strange” in places. But that is not Mark’s fault. It is the fault of audiences trying to see in it a mini-Hollywood action film, a literal precursor of something that Matthew knew how to really portray in a much more appealing way.

2008/04/19

Why did no-one edit gospel gaffes about the Second Coming?

When prophecies of the end fail those who placed their hopes in them commonly attempt to explain and understand differently what they once expected to happen. When Christ failed to return to earth between March 1843 and March 1844, the schedule was re-written as April 1844. When that passed, it was revised again to October that year. After Christ failed to show up the third time, other groups insisted the date was right but they had misunderstood the event it marked: Seventh Day Adventists reinterpreted the event to a heavenly venue, unseen here below; Bahais claimed the advent happened in the form of Bab beginning his public teaching in Iran at that time. But many disappointed Millerites, not least Miller himself, turned their backs on specific event-based steps in a timetable and opted for the more general “Be ready; we don’t know when; he could come any time; we believe it will be in our life-time, but if not . . . .”

The question

Our earliest gospels are clear that Jesus promised an event of cosmic import in which he would “be seen” on earth again within the lifetime of his own generation. Thus in Matthew 24 we read:

Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately . . . And Jesus answered and said to them . . .

Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation, spoken by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place . . . then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be . . . Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect . . .

Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled. . . . Therefore you . . . be ready, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour when you do not expect him.

Today popular understandings and many fundamentalist teachings find various ways to “see” subtle nuances in the text to enable them to apply Jesus’ promise to today’s generation. They cannot change the text, so they must find ways to read the text to remove its meaning from its original context and make it relevant to subsequent generations. The problem they face when they do this is that they can only hope to find tentative re-readings and subtleties in the hope of convincing themselves.

But the earliest transmitters of our gospels faced no such quandary. Even if the original authors did write within the life-times of Jesus’ generation, and had fully expected Jesus to swoop down visibly from heaven and bring fiery judgment to the entire world in their own time, those custodians of their narratives who soon followed them and succeeded that generation were living with the proof that such a prophecy had failed. Why is there no evidence that they attempted to re-write or re-interpret the literal import of the prophecy?

It took a long time after the gospels were first written before they achieved a sacred enough status to forbid copyists from re-writing or revising any awkward bits in them. When “Matthew” re-wrote “Mark”, for example, the opening account of John the Baptist was ruffled with a few extra lines to find a way for both John and Jesus to apologize to readers for letting the superior be baptized by the inferior:

Compare Mark 1:9

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

with Matthew 3:12-15

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John . . . to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he allowed him.

But even within the one gospel we find evidence in the different manuscripts of attempts by various editors to re-write passages that were not congenial to someone’s theology, doctrinal tastes or were thought to be simply inaccurate:

  • Thus in Mark 10:19 some copyists simply dropped the “Do not defraud” command from Jesus’ citation from the Ten Commandments, presumably because it is not one of the Ten. The authors of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels likewise changed Mark’s original.
  • Not all scribes liked the text of Mark that claimed Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3) so some changed it to read that he was thought to be the son of a carpenter. The church father Origen indicates that he did not know the passage familiar to most of us declaring that Jesus was a carpenter.
  • Similar variation in the texts surrounds the problematic circuitous itinerary of Jesus in Mark 7:31.

Most famously, we have among the manuscripts 4 different endings of the Gospel of Mark:

  1. And they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus)
  2. And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. (Bobiensis . . . )
  3. Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. And when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. And after that, He appeared in a different form to two of them, while they were walking along on their way to the country. And they went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either. And afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. “And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Many manuscripts underpinning the Textus Receptus)
  4. And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or: does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now” — thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven. (Washingtonianus)

So there is little doubt that the early texts of the gospels were not, well, engraved in stone by the finger of God. Early generations found it permissible to re-touch them here and there for perceived inaccuracies, embarrassments, theological disagreements.

There was a time when there was time to likewise edit the prophecy of Jesus to make it less necessary to tax the interpretive ingenuities of subsequent generations.

Yet throughout the synoptic gospels and their textual variants the prophecy that Jesus is to be seen coming in judgment within the life-time of his original disciples does appear to be engraved in stone. There is no evidence of embarrassment attached to it during its transmission even after the first generation had passed away. (The Gospel of John’s complete omission of it is not evidence of embarrassment over its failure, as discussed below.)

The answer

They answer is, I believe, not novel, but not popular either. Yet the question raised above adds weight to its certainty.

The authors of the synoptics understood that they were adapting metaphors from their Jewish sources to an historical event that did happen within the lifespan of the generation of Jesus. There was no embarrassment over prophetic failure. They were writing in apocalyptic language about an historically apocalyptic event — the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple. That is, the end of the old Jewish kingdom that had once been God’s, leaving the followers of Christ free to feel they had been vindicated as the new kingdom of God.

The apocalyptic signs Jesus’ disciples are told to expect are the same as used by earlier prophets to describe the historical fall of Babylon to invading armies:

The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. . . . For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine . . . . And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, . . . will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. (Isa. 13:1, 10, 19)

The author was writing from a time when Babylon was lying in ruins and describing in typical Jewish apocalyptic metaphors the fall and end of that great city-state and kingdom.

The same author describes the fall of other nations before imperial invasion in similar apocalyptic metaphors:

And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down as a leaf falls from the vine . . . (Isa. 34:3-4)

Another author uses the same metaphors to announce a historical judgment on Egypt:

Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him . . . When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens and make its stars dark: I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. . . . (Ezek. 32:2, 7)

Joel describes an earlier military conquest of Israel in the same language:

The heavens tremble, the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness. (Joel 2:10).

This is the Day of the Lord, when God is said to stand in Jerusalem itself:

For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The Lord will also roar from Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem . . . (Joel 3:14-15).

The image is metaphorical. The author does not visualize God literally standing on earth, or his voice being literally heard.

The author of Isaiah 52 also spoke of a generation, his own, seeing God at the time of the restoration of Israel (God’s “Servant” nation) under the Persians:

The Lord has made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations (Isa. 52:10)

The appearance of God is apocalyptic, not literal, imagery.

David likewise wrote that he saw God descend to earth to rescue him out of threatening waters. No-one takes his poetry literally:

Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook . . . He bowed the heavens also and came down with darkness under his feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and he was seen upon the wings of wind. . . . He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. . . . (2 Samuel 22: 8, 10-11, 17).

The prophecy put into the mouth of Jesus by the gospel authors described the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple. This was the end of a world for most Jews at that time. A traumatic life-changing experience can result in an individual feeling as if his entire known world has vanished, as if he no longer has ground to walk on, or the sky above that he had known all his life to cover him. That, at least, is how I know I felt some years ago when passing through such a trauma. Apocalyptic language seemed to be the most apt way to describe the experience. It was real, if not literal, enough, to me. No doubt seeing ones world, one’s nation, proud capital city, the monumental centre and foundation of one’s faith, all crumble and be destroyed in blood by invading armies, brings apocalyptic imagery and interpretations most readily to mind.

Jesus was seen returning in judgment upon the city that had crucified him and persecuted his followers. He was seen coming down to that city in the Roman armies just as surely as God had been seen coming down in historical acts of vengeance by earlier prophets, including David.

The Gospel of John’s omission of the prophecy

It is significant, furthermore, to note that among early Christians, when the canonical gospels were still being written, it is clear that this prophecy of the cosmic second coming of Christ represented an alternative eschatological belief.

If we accept the arguments of those scholars that the author of the Gospel of John knew the Gospel of Mark, then we find that this author chose to deliberately omits the prophecy altogether. If he did not know the synoptics, then he knew many of the “traditions” that found their way into the synoptics, yet not this end-time prophecy of Jesus. Either way, there can be little doubt that he would have found such a prophecy pointless because he disagreed with its fundamental doctrinal assumptions. Rather than judgment coming upon the world and the gathering of the saints all happening in a future cosmic event, these things befell the world from the moment Jesus was crucified:

Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself. (John 12:31-32)

Whether or not this author knew Mark, he holds to a theology that renders Mark’s prophecy of end times redundant. It is not a bed-rock of Christian faith like the crucifixion is, however that be interpreted, but an optional extra. You are free to wear it if it fits. If the authors of the synoptic gospels saw the replacement of the earthly Jerusalem by the spiritual kingdom of God as fulfilled in 70 c.e., John saw its complete fulfilment 40 years earlier.

The irony

It is ironical that many Christians who read Jesus’ prophecy of his “second coming” literally also stress the importance of understanding Jewish as opposed to Greek or gentile thought when interpreting the Bible, yet fail to do so themselves in this instance.

2008/01/25

Marcion – Synoptic Problem (4): birth narratives

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts,Marcion,New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 8:27 am
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Continuing from Marcion and the Synoptic Problem (3)

The argument for Q rests on the understanding that Luke did not know the gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons for this view is Luke’s “otherwise inexplicable” failure to draw on some of the most memorable of material unique to Matthew, such as Joseph planning to divorce Mary until the angel came to him in a dream, the story of the Magi following the star to visit Jesus at his birth, Herod’s massacre of the innocents and Jesus’ and his parents’ flight to Egypt.

Kloppenborg argues that much of the material special to Matthew, such as the focus on the gentile theme (e.g. the Magi) was begging for Luke to pick up had he known it. Others have responded that Luke was reserving the gentile mission of the time after Jesus (e.g. Luke edited Matthew’s story of the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant so that Jesus never made direct contact with the gentile (cf. Matt 8 and Luke 7). Goodacre adds that Luke had a dim view of the Magi class (cf. Acts 8).

I would add that we know from the book of Acts that for “Luke” the Jerusalem Temple was a central pillar in his narrative (see my earlier post looking at Tyson’s methodical analysis of Luke’s themes in Acts), and other posts I have put out recently look at reasons for seeing this as an anti-Marcionite motif (see my Tyson and Marcion archives). But I’m following Tyson here, in assuming our canonical Luke is a redaction of the earlier “Luke” that Marcion knew. If so, then we can understand Luke intended from the start to link Jesus with the Temple — right from his very birth and entrance into the world. Hence his dedication at the Temple at the time of his circumcision, and his follow-up as a boy a few years later.

Embedding Jesus in the Temple motif from the first made Matthew’s nativity story impossible. Matthew’s required Jerusalem to be the centre of the evil Herod who caused the exile of Jesus into Egypt. There was no room in the logic of Matthew’s narrative for Herod, the massacre of the infants, nor even the Magi. The Magi were in fact the narrative means by which Herod caused the exile of Jesus from the Temple area altogether. If Luke brought them into his narrative at all it would have been clear that his audience would be unable to free themselves of their Matthean role and make a mockery of any alternative theological spin Luke was trying to introduce. Best he replace these wealthy eastern aristocrats with a completely new vision of lowly local shepherds being visited not by an astrological sign but by an angelic choir. It was important for Luke to keep Jesus in the area so the Jewish Temple tradition could be shown to be integral to the coming of Jesus. To have him exiled from the area altogether by the king of Jerusalem would surely only play into the hands of those (such as Marcionites) who argued Jesus came quite apart from any special Jewish heritage of promise.

But it has also been pointed out (Farrer, Goulder, Goodacre) that points of contact between Luke’s and Matthew’s nativities do suggest some form of dependence despite the differences.

  • The idea of a nativity introduction to the gospel was not something an author took for granted as a natural enough place to start. Neither Mark nor John, nor Marcion, saw this as a fit beginning. So the question whether Luke picked up the idea from Matthew presents itself. And if so, one would presume some inkling of the nature of Matthew’s account.
  • Both speak of a virginal conception by the holy spirit
  • Both have the birth take place at Bethlehem
  • Both hit on the name of Joseph for Jesus’ father
  • Both share the same Greek words for “will give birth to a son and you (singular) shall call him Jesus.” (Matt. 1:21 and Luke 1:31). Matthew’s use of this sentence is addressed to Joseph, who as father does name his son Jesus. Luke uses it — inappropriately in the same singular form — as an address to Mary who will not be solely responsible for naming her son (compare Luke 1:13).

Klinghardt suggests that Luke did know Matthew, but chose to follow and modify Marcion’s gospel rather than Matthew’s at this point. I doubt that argument will satisfy those who argue for Q since clearly, given Marcion’s lack of a nativity scene, it is hard to imagine Luke’s mind not turning to Matthew’s. But I have given my reasons above for believing an anti-Marcionite redactor (Luke) would see Matthew’s story playing right into the hands of Marcionites.

But Klinghardt strengthens his case that Luke knew Matthew by elaborating on the logic of the Bethlehem setting in the two gospels. The Bethlehem setting makes perfect sense in Matthew’s gospel, especially since to Matthew it was the inevitable sign and proof of Jesus’ Davidic kingship. Although Matthew knows from Mark of Jesus’ association with Nazareth, he begins the gospel with Jesus’ parents living in Bethlehem. They are forced to flee and when it comes time to return the political situation is such that it is safest for them to settle in Nazareth. This all has a cogent narrative flow. Klinghardt sees Luke as being more “universalist” in his concept of Jesus (cf Luke 2:1-2; 3:1a), hence his downplaying of Matthew’s significance for Bethlehem.

K does not elaborate, but Luke’s forced and unnatural embrace of the Bethlehem scene might also be seen as evidence of Luke’s dependence on Matthew. Luke, attempting to adapt Matthew’s Bethlehem as the place of birth of Jesus to his more universalist theme, feels obliged to concoct a silly story of everyone being required by imperial edict to return to their places of birth for a special tax registration. Not to mention the necessary anachronism of his Quirinius timing, too. It is not hard to see that Luke is struggling to incorporate Matthew’s Bethlehem setting into his own tendentious narrative.

But back to Klinghardt’s point:

But, again, Goodacre’s explanation why Luke did not take over this material, is as hypothetical as Kloppenborg’s reply why Luke would have liked it, provided he had read Matthew. Both argue e silentio from Luke’s omissions and try to explain something which is not there.

For most of this material the answer might be much simpler: if Luke followed [Marcion], he did not find any of the [special Matthew] material . . . Since Luke did not “omit” it from his source, there is no need for a hypothetical explanation of his reasons for doing it this way: he simply followed the narrative frame of [Marcion]. (p.14)

But Klinghardt himself appears to be aware of the weakness of this argument — there was no Marcionite nativity “narrative frame” for Luke to “simply follow” in the first place. Hence he, too, must side with Goodacre and add his own arguments why Luke did indeed use and change Matthew at this point — to which I have added my own here.

2008/01/23

Marcion and the Synoptic Problem (3)

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts,Marcion,New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 10:17 pm
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Continuing from Marcion enters the synoptic problem and Marcion and the synoptic problem 2. — notes from Klinghardt’s recent article. K often refers to Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q.

A question that keeps hanging over my mind as I read and think about Klinghardt’s article is: Just how reliable is Tertullian’s witness of Marcion’s gospel anyway? How can we be sure Tertullian is not really relying more on Luke and recalling what differences he thinks there were from an earlier reading of Marcion’s gospel? Tertullian does concede that his earlier notes went missing, and one is left wondering how much that survives was from his memory and without immediate reference to Marcion’s gospel.

If that was the case, then is not there a risk of Klinghardt’s argument lacking a stable support — in effect being circular?

But the fact that Epiphanius can be called on to support Tertullian’s testimony from time to time does appear to lessen the risk that this is the case.

Some years ago when first studying what we know about Marcion I had an ambition of sifting through Tertullian et al to see if the Marcionite gospel might indeed cross reference to the synoptic gospels and suggest an alternative to Q. I’m thrilled to see that Klinghardt appears to have done something like that here.

I know the whole notion of this discussion will be nonsense to anyone who cannot admit even the possibility of a second century, let alone post Marcion, date for the synoptics. But the more I read around the issues the more I can’t help thinking that such a late date resolves so many other questions, too, which I discuss here from time to time.

Notes from Klinghardt’s article:

Alternating primitivity in the Double Tradition (Mt & Lk) material

Matthew and Luke alone include “the beatitude” sayings of Jesus. Luke writes: Blessed are the poor; Matthew writes: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke’s version here is regarded as the original or more primitive version of the two. Matthew’s defining the poor in spiritual terms is regarded as a subsequent evolution of the saying as it appears in Luke. Sometimes, however, it is Luke who will use what is considered the more mature form of a saying and Matthew the more primitive. The most widely accepted explanation for this alternating primitivity in the double tradition material (that shared exclusively by Matthew and Luke) has been the hypothesis that both Matthew and Luke were using another common source, Q.

Klinghardt however writes: “On the assumption of [Marcion] being prior to Luke the observation of alternating primitivity finds a completely different and rather simple solution.” (p.15)

Tertullian informs us that Marcion’s text matches Luke’s (contra Matthew’s) in the following instances:

  1. Blessed are the poor (Luke 6:20b) — Tert. 4.1.41
  2. Blessed are the persecuted on behalf of the Son of Man (Luke 6:22) — Tert. 41.14.14
  3. The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4, contra Matt. 6:9-13) — Tert. 4.26.3-4 (Tert does not quote the Marcionite Lord’s Prayer but K comments that it is clear he does not know of Matthew’s second and seventh prayer requests in Marcion’s version. Some manuscript evidence also points to the possibility that Luke’s original Lord’s prayer called on the spirit in place of the kingdom and was later changed to “kingdom” — which would also be more consistent with a Marcionite theology.)
  4. Exorcism is performed by the finger of God (Luke 11:20, contra Matt. 12:28 ) — Tert. 4.26.11

Luke’s “re-ordering” of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount

Matthew’s multi-page Sermon on the Mount is not repeated as a solitary block in Luke. Rather, Luke does use a number of the sayings from that sermon but in small snatches scattered throughout the narrative. To those who support Luke’s knowledge of and borrowing from Matthew, this is evidence of Luke’s greater narrative skill; to most, however, it is inconceivable that any author would have broken up a such a “masterpiece” had he known it.

Tertullian in particular informs us that Marcion’s gospel contained the bulk of the broken up “sermon” sayings of Matthew in the same narrative order as found in Luke. In other words, given Macionite priority it appears most likely that Luke followed Marcion’s text rather than another otherwise unattested document, Q.

Klinghardt provides the following table:

  1. Matt. 5:13 // Luke 14:34-35 (parable of salt): —
  2. Matt. 5:15 // Luke 11:33 (parable of light): Tert. 4.27.1
  3. Matt. 5:18 // Luke 16:17 (imperishability of the law): Tert. 4.33.9
  4. Matt. 5:25 // Luke 12:57-59 (reconciling with enemy): Tert. 4.29.15
  5. Matt. 5:32 // Luke 16:18 (divorce and remarriage): Tert. 4.34.1, 4
  6. Matt. 6:9-13 // Luke 11:2-4 (Lord’s Prayer): Tert. 4.26.3-5
  7. Matt. 6:19-21 // Luke 12: 33-34 (on collecting treasures): —
  8. Matt. 6:22-23 // Luke 11:34-36 (parable of the eye): —
  9. Matt. 6:24 // Luke 16:13 (serving 2 masters): Tert. 4.33.1-2; Adam., Dial. 1.26
  10. Matt. 6:25-34 // Luke 12:22-31 (on anxiety): Tert. 4.29.1-5
  11. Matt. 7:7-11 // Luke 11:9-13 (answered prayer): Tert. 4.26.5-10; Epiph. 42.11.6
  12. Matt. 7:13-14 // Luke 13:23-24 (narrow gate): —
  13. Matt. 7:22-23 // Luke 13:26-27 (warning against self-deception): Tert. 4.30.4

On the Minor Agreements in the Triple Tradition (Mt, Mk, Lk) material

These are so, well, “minor” that there is no way to test many of them against Marcion’s gospel without that gospel’s actual text. In some of the minor agreements between Luke and Matthew against Mark there is no Marcionite attestation and it seems logical to think Luke has copied Matthew in such cases.

But a few points are worth noting in relation to the possibility of Marcionite influence:

– the sabbath was not made for man . . .
Both Luke 9:5 and Matthew 12:7-8 omit Mark 2:27 (the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath). There is no attestation that this and other “omission agreements” were in Marcion’s text.

Who hit you?
A more significant and testable agreement is in the depiction of Christ’s beating. Matthew and Luke both add the “Tell us who hit you” taunt to Mark’s account. (cf. Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64; Matt. 26:68 )

This agreement is prima facie evidence that Luke did know and use Matthew. Arguments against this have centred on postulating faulty manuscript transmission or that Luke sometimes occasionally used Matthew as well as Q. The former sounds ad hoc and the latter contradicts the very premise for the Q hypothesis (that Matthean material is not found in Luke.)

But Epiphanius (Panar. 42.11.6) informs us that these words were in Marcion’s gospel. The simplest explanation therefore, given Marcion priority, would be that both Luke and Matthew copied Marcion’s text here.

standing outside (minus the sisters)
Mark 3:31-5 narrates Jesus’ family, including his sisters, are waiting for him outside a house. Luke 8:20 and Matthew 12:47 narrate the same incident from Mark, but without mentioning the sisters and with both describing the family as “standing” outside.

Tertullian read the same (Lukan and Matthean) words in Marcion’s text. 4.19.7

the mustard seed
Mark’s parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32) is told in the passive voice and without naming the subject (sower). Both Matthew and Luke use the active voice and do name the subject (sower). Matthew, however, speaks of a garden, Luke of a field.
Tertullian tells us, 4.30.1, that Marcion had the same version we find in Matthew and Luke. Tertullian also read Luke’s “field” in the Macionite text.

after three days
In Mark 8:31 we read the resurrection was to be “after three days”. In Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22 we read it was to be “on the third day”.

Marcion also used “on the third day” — Tertullian 4.21.7

The nativity stories

Klinghardt discusses these as well. But my note-taking time is up for now so that’s another post.

2007/09/26

The Jesus Genealogies: their different theological significances

A late date and anti-Marcionite context for Luke-Acts not only has the power to explain why Luke may have rejected Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, but even more directly why Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is so different from Matthew’s. (The common belief that Luke records Mary’s family line and Matthew Joseph’s is a simplistic rationalization that defies the textual evidence.)

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham and is traced through Solomon. Luke’s bypasses Solomon and traces back to Adam and God himself. (more…)

2007/09/25

A reason Luke might have rejected Matthew’s nativity story

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Luke-Acts,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 9:52 am
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There are arguments for and against Luke having known and used the gospel of Matthew, but one of the stronger arguments against him having done so is that his nativity story appears to owe nothing to Matthew’s – indeed appears to have been composed in complete ignorance of it. Matthew tells the story of the star, the visiting Magi, the infant Jesus being whisked off to Egypt to escape the Herod’s massacre of the infants, and eventual settlement in Nazareth. Luke’s story is as much about the miraculous birth of John the Baptist as it is about Jesus, involves shepherds instead of Magi, no Herodian massacre, and a presentation at the Jerusalem Temple rather than a flight to Egypt.

If Luke as we have it was, with the book of Acts, a response to Marcionism (or even an attempt to baptize Paul into orthodoxy quite apart from Marcionism), then it would seem he would have every reason to dismiss the Matthean nativity totally. (more…)

2007/09/17

Signs in Josephus, Signs in Gospels and Acts

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Josephus,Luke-Acts,New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 10:24 pm

Weeden has presented reasons for thinking the story of Jesus, the son of Ananus, that has come to us through Josephus, played a significant part in customizing details of Mark’s gospel of Jesus. Indeed, this entire section of Josephus‘s Wars that cites 8 warning signs of the imminent fall of Jerusalem has several intriguing overlaps with not only Mark’s gospel, but also with distinctive passages in Matthew, Luke and Acts also.

What follows is only for those already willing to be persuaded that Luke-Acts is in part dependent upon the writings of Josephus. I’m not arguing the case in this post, but jotting down first-thoughts on the signs, two in particular, in Josephus and what seems like it might be their resonance in Acts. Notes for casual discussion or later consideration, nothing more yet. The Josephan passages are copied from Chapter 6 of Wars on the ccel site. (more…)

2007/04/07

Pharisees in Galilee?

In my “dating the gospels late” post I made a few statements that would appear outrageous to some. Rather than attempt to answer some of the objections raised in the tiny comments box I am opting to make separate posts justifying the points I made.

Pharisee from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Here I cite reasons for claiming one anachronism in the gospels: Jesus’ disputes with the Pharisees in Galilee. Though there may have been the odd Pharisee in Galilee prior to 70 ce the impression given by the gospels that they were a significant presence there is unlikely historically — for the following reasons: (more…)

2007/04/01

Additional Sauces for the Feedings of 5000 and 4000

Filed under: Gospel of Mark,Gospel of Matthew,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 1:23 pm

Earlier post looked at Elisha’s miracle as Mark’s principle source for the mass feeding miracles – here I list a few distinctly Moses sources, and a comparison with Matthew’s parallel accounts, summarized from Dale C. Allison Jr’s The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (pp.238-242). (more…)

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