Vridar

2013/04/17

Why Christians and Jews were for so long indistinguishable — even after the flight to Pella

Cover of "Border Lines: The Partition of ...

Cover via Amazon

Warning. Dr Larry Hurtado and others embracing a similar perspective disagree strongly with the views of the scholar to be discussed in this post. I will address some of Hurtado’s criticisms of Dr Daniel Boyarin at a later date. But now you know that what I am covering here is not a consensus view. But it offers ideas that deserve exploring and thinking through, whatever position arrive at in the end.

I am sure I am not alone in having wondered at some time how it can be that Roman authorities, as we are told, could not easily tell Christians apart from Jews in the early days. One group was dominated by those who worshiped Jesus and did not keep the Jewish customs and the other by those who cursed Jesus and did keep the Jewish customs. So when in Acts we read of authorities being prepared to dismiss complaints of either party because they thought the issue was merely over legalistic quibbles, something does not sound quite right — or “coherent”, as a scholar interested in criteria of authenticity might say. Something’s missing from this equation.

The Long Good-Bye

Recently I finished reading Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword. He makes the point Christianity and Judaism as we understand them did not really come into their own, that is, separate as truly distinct religions until the fourth century. (He cites scholarly works, of course.) What led to that clear demarcation between the two as opposing religions was the work of the heresiologists on both sides. There arose a situation where it became necessary for Christians who had achieved some political power and status to draw clear boundaries to define who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. Jewish authorities were correspondingly obliged to do the same.

I am in the early stages of reading Daniel Boyarin’s Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Fate must have led me to this book just after reading Tom Holland’s because Boyarin expresses the very same view of the late definitive separation between the two religions. (I don’t really believe in Fate, by the way.) As would be expected given the different themes of the two books, Boyarin goes into more detail than Holland to make his case. He addresses the long-established conservative view that the final break between the two happened after the first Jewish War, or certainly no later than the second in the 130s.

Pella, Jordan 2000

Pella, Jordan 2000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real meaning of the Pella legend?

One of his interesting points is made in relation to the legend of the early Church fleeing to Pella. That has often been interpreted as the final breach between Christianity and Judaism. The Jerusalem Church fled the city to escape the imminent conquest of the city by the Romans. Eusebius even links this with a heavenly voice heard in the Temple saying “Let us remove hence!” (Quaint translation of “Armaggedon outta here”.) Later Ebion was believed to have arisen from among these Christians and founded the “Ebionites” — Jewish Christians who had truly separated themselves from Judaism.

Boyarin puts a fly in the ointment of the legend that this event might be interpreted as the final rift between Judaism and Christianity. (more…)

2013/01/17

Pharisees and Judaism, Popular (Gospel) Caricatures versus Modern Scholarly Views

Filed under: Gospel anachronisms — Neil Godfrey @ 10:51 pm
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Updated 18th January, 2013. 8:40 pm.

I recently confessed that I have too often written with the assumption that my points are surely so well-known that there is no need to explain them. This post attempts to make amends for one such recent gaffe. I explain why I claimed Hoffmann is out of touch with most scholarship with his views of the Judaism of Jesus’ and Paul’s day.

In my latest post addressing Hoffmann’s argument for an historical Jesus, I dismissed his claim that Paul came from a tradition that knew only a vengeful God incapable of forgiveness. I assumed most readers would know that such a view of the Judaism of the early and mid first century is widely understood to be a misinformed caricature of reality. One commenter pulled me up on that point.

So here I quote views of scholars on the nature of Judaism, and the Pharisees in particular, in the time of Jesus and Paul. First, here are Hoffmann’s words:

[Paul] finessed his disagreements into a cult that turned the vindictive God of his own tradition into a being capable of forgiveness.

I brushed this aside with the following comment:

I am astonished that Hoffmann would write such an unsupportable caricature as if it were fact. His view is surely out of touch with most scholarship that has addressed this question.

So I pulled out books from my shelves that I could quickly identify as having something to say about this question. I avoided any titles that might be associated with scholars of mythicist leanings or left-right-out-radicals, however. I tried to stick to well-known or highly respected names in the field and especially to include relative “conservatives” in the mix.

So here are the sorts of things I have been reading over the years and that have led me to conclude that certainly a good number of scholars no longer accept Hoffmann’s characterization of Judaism or Pharisaism today. Note the number of times they denounce as a modern myth any notion that God was harsh or that Jews did not know divine forgiveness.

maccobyHyam Maccoby: The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1986)

In recent years, many Christian scholars have come to realize that this Gospel picture of the Pharisees [i.e. severely and cruelly legalistic, hypocritical and self-righteous] is propaganda, not fact. Our main source of authentic information about the Pharisees is their own voluminous literature, including prayers, hymns, books of wisdom, law books, sermons, commentaries on the Bible, mystical treatises, books of history and many other genres. Far from being arid ritualists, they were one of the most creative groups in history.

Moreover, the Pharisees, far from being rigid and inflexible in applying religious laws, were noted (as the first-century historian Josephus points out, and as is amply confirmed in the Pharisee law books) for the lenience of their legal rulings, and for the humanity and flexibility with which they sought to adapt the law of the Bible to changing conditions and improved moral conceptions. . . . (p. 19) (more…)

2012/08/15

The German Radical Theologians: Why did they happen and what is their relevance today?

The second chapter in Is This Not the Carpenter? is an interesting discussion by fellow Aussie Roland Boer titled “The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer”. (The link is to Australia’s University of Newcastle tribute page to Roland Boer as one of their “research achievers”.) It is easy to see where Leftie Red Roland is coming from with a quick glance at his blog, Stalin’s Moustache. There he has a most informative page, Marxism and Religion: Annotated Reading List, in which readers can survey the relationship between Karl Marx and Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach — two persons at the heart of his chapter in Is This Not the Carpenter? One also learns of his penchant for “arresting titles” (beside words like “Lenin nudist” and “psychic terror”, “German pestilence” is right at home), and that he enjoys occasional sparring with Jim West, author of the first chapter of this book that I discussed in the previous post.

So what is Roland Boer’s essay about?

  1. Why German philosophy and public debates about human, political and economic justice were so entwined with theology and especially the Gospels in the early decades of the nineteenth century;
  2. What was the importance of
    1. Ludwig’s Feuerbach‘s theory that God and religion were “mere” projections of the best in human beings;
    2. David Strauss‘s demolition of the orthodox understanding of the Gospels and argument that they were really mythical stories;
    3. and Bruno Bauer‘s radical sceptical approach to the New Testament along with his radical politics and militant atheism.
  3. What messages from all of the above might be found relevant today.

So let’s begin. I outline the core of Boer’s argument as I understand it. (more…)

2012/07/09

The Lost Half of Christianity

In a recent post I wrote that the Jews in Mesopotamia who were responsible for the Babylonian Talmud would quite likely have had very little contact with the Christianity Westerners are familiar with. An interesting book that gives us a glimpse into the sorts of Christianities these rabbis probably knew is The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, by Philip Jenkins. But be warned. If you pick it up for snippets of references to that question you risk being drawn into a far more engrossing narrative than you anticipated about the shining lights of civilization in the east at the time all we Westerners know from our schooling is a Dark Age.

On the question of the Christianity that was known to the Jews behind the Babylonian Talmud, what I learned from this book is

  1. the Christianity of the Mesopotamian region was more directly linked historically and linguistically to the earliest Syrian forms of Christianity — with its focus on Thomas and mysticism; they were also known as Nazarenes and called Jesus “Yeshua”;
  2. when the Christianity became the ruling religion in the West (4th century) Christians in the Persian kingdom were initially persecuted because they were considered potential fifth columnists;
  3. but as the Western authorities sought religious unity by imposing strictures against “heretical” views, those “heretical” forms of Christianity found a refuge in the Persian dominated East.

The Jews who may have been responsible for those Yeshu and “Nazarene” references in the Babylonian Talmud almost certainly relied upon these Eastern/Syrian Christians who were outcasts from the West for their information about Christianity. (Jenkins does not discuss the relationship of these Christians to the Babylonian Talmud — I am only putting my two plus two together after reading the first few chapters of Jenkins’ book.)

Some excerpts of relevance to this question and that I found interesting follow. All the highlighting in the passages is my own. I have linked to names and terms that may not be so familiar to many of us. (more…)

2012/05/09

Evolution and Christianity are not compatible

Darwin fish

Darwin fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Jerry Coyne’s latest post at Why Evolution Is True many of us have been directed to a Mike Aus article on RichardDawkins.net that confronts what should be obvious to all thinking people: evolution and Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths are not compatible.

Some excerpts:

If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . . .

Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits. The instinct for self-preservation and a concern for the well-being of other individuals appear to have both played a role in the survival and evolution of our species. If that is the case, then the tension between “sin” and selflessness might actually help define who we are as humans. The project of religion has been sin eradication, and that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature. . . . . (more…)

2012/03/12

Jesus Formed (Couchoud)

Filed under: Couchoud: Creation of Christ — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

This post contains the final chapter of Couchoud’s The Creation of Christ.

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

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

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

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

.

JESUS FORMED

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

2012/02/09

Historical Jesus Scholarly Ignorance of Historical Methods

On 14th January I posted How Historians Work – Lessons for Historical Jesus Scholars in which I demonstrated that at least some biblical scholars are unaware of normal historical practices by quoting key sections from works recommended to me by Dr McGrath. On 16th January Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, responded to  by accusing me of being a fool, either ignorant or obtuse on the one hand or wilfully misrepresenting and wishing to deceive readers whom I believe are gullible and foolish on the other.

Unfortunately Dr McGrath’s reply only further convinced me that he has not read both books in question even though he recommended them to me — though he does appear to have at least read sections (only) of one of them — and that his smearing of my character and intelligence is unwarranted.

Dr McGrath began his reply with:

I sometimes wonder if mythicists realize when they are making fools of themselves. If they do, then they are presumably akin to clowns and comedians who provide a useful service in providing us with entertainment. If they are unintentionally funny, then their clowning around in some instances may include misrepresentation of others which, however ridiculous, requires some sort of response.

Presumably this sort of ad hominem is intended as filler in place of reasoned responses to virtually the whole of the arguments and demonstrations of my post since he repeats such accusations often while never engaging with all but a couple of my points, and even those only tangentially.

Dr McGrath then lands another character attack that he says he will not deliver or will ignore so I will ignore that for now, too — although I did respond to it on his blog at the time.

So to the main point:

But on the misrepresentation of Vansina, and of Howell and Prevenier, a few brief points are in order, which I suspect will show clearly to anyone interested that Godfrey either is either failing to comprehend Vansina, Howell, and prevenier, or is willfully misrepresenting them.

This introduction at the very least leads me to expect that Dr McGrath will demonstrate by quoting Vansina and Howell and Prevenier (more…)

2012/02/05

Hypocritical Christ-mythers: Cameron’s response to Neil Godfrey at Vridar — & my response back

Русский: Григорий Распутин . English: Grigorij...

Theologian

4 evolutionists (1873)

Evolutionists

Herodotus and Thucydides

Historians

Cameron, a critic of Dave Fitzgerald’s Nailed, has responded to my remarks (Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists) about his accusation that those who reject the historicity of Jesus are hypocritical if they also criticize Creationists for rejecting an academic consensus. As seems to be par for the course with these sorts of attacks, derisive labels and character attacks are deployed against anyone who argues that Jesus was not a historical figure. Hence the generic title of his response: Hypocritical Christ-mythers.

Cameron begins his response thus:

In my review of David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed, I criticized Christ-mythers for ignoring the consensus of biblical scholars on the historical Jesus, while simultaneously attacking creationists for rejecting the consensus of scientists on evolution. Fitzgerald didn’t like the comparison, and neither did Neil Godfrey over at Vridar. But he’s wrong for the same reasons Fitzgerald is. His comments are in quotes, followed by my responses.

“Of course there is one professor who asserts that to the extent that biblical studies does have a degree of certainty (even though only a fraction of anything in the sciences), to that extent mythicists should respectfully submit to this consensus just as creationists should be rational and accept the authority of scientists. That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course doesn’t matter. What matters is that the most honourable professors in each have certainties. One just happens to have greater certainties than the other, that’s all.”

Of course there’s a degree of uncertainty involved when investigating historical figures, but to call biblical history a “Mickey Mouse course” is to reach a new level of special pleading. People like Godfrey make the entire field sound like a collection crazy, right-wing evangelicals bent on defending their worldview. The truth is that these scholars, whatever their ideological commitments may be, are interested in the truth. That most of them (even those skeptical of Christianity) have rejected the Christ-myth speaks volumes about its lack of validity. Furthermore, if mythicists are aware of the limitations of history, though they exaggerate them, don’t you think historians areas well? Yeah…they are. But somehow the experts rarely throw up their hands and exclaim, “well we weren’t there; Jesus probably wasn’t real!”

Whatever their ideological commitments?

Cameron portrays theologians who study “the historical Jesus” as reasonable enough to set aside their ideological commitments in order to objectively seek out only “the truth” of the matter. This is a naive Pollyannish portrayal of a scholarly field dominated by faith-committed theologians. Let’s break down Cameron’s comment and examine each piece.

Biblical studies is probably the most ideologically oriented of all academic disciplines. Hector Avalos has shown that clearly enough in The End of Biblical Studies. R. Joseph Hoffmann remarked on this blog that the reason the Christ myth theory is not given more attention among scholars has more to do with conditions of academic appointments than common sense. Stevan Davies recently pointed out that a list of the Westar Institute Fellows shows nearly all are or have been affiliated with seminaries and theological institutions. Most of the scholarly books one picks up on the historical Jesus contain prefaces or concluding chapters in which one reads reflections that sound more like homilies or spiritual confessions. James Crossley has publicly denounced the way biblical scholars so regularly open their academic get-togethers (seminars, workshops) with prayers. Blogs of theologian scholars are dominated by spiritual reflections and sayings. Atheists and atheism are generally derided. Ideology is important. The Christian faith dominates the entire field of biblical studies. To suggest that these scholars are all committed to setting aside their personal faith and seeking truth regardless of where it may lead sounds about as plausible as expecting Nazi era scientists to set aside their political ideology in order to study the biological grounds for racial differences.

That most of such scholars have rejected a model that undermines the entire ideological and faith foundations of this scholarly field tells us absolutely nothing about its lack of validity. (more…)

2012/01/31

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

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

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

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

(p. 31, my formatting)

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

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

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

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

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

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

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

2012/01/29

Pre-Christian Foundations of Christianity (Couchoud)

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

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

Foreword (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

Apocalypses (168 b.c. – a.d. 40)

I. Preliminary (approx 1.8 MB pdf)

II. Profaned Temple (approx 2.2 MB pdf)

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

IV. Revelations of Enoch (approx 6.7 MB pdf)

V. Revelations of Moses (approx 2.8 MB pdf)

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

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

2011/12/19

Anthropologist spotlights the Bible and Biblical Studies

Updated with additional statement of PW's conclusion about 40 minutes after original posting.

Dr Philippe Wajdenbaum has written the thesis I would have loved to have written and it perhaps could only have been written at this time by an anthropologist — a field I was once advised to enter. How sometimes our lives could have been so different. Wajdenbaum wrote his thesis in social anthropology. It has nothing to say about the Christ myth so applying his words to this topic is entirely my own doing. The thesis is radical enough, however, since it applies Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structural analysis of myths to the Old Testament narratives and shows their indebtedness to classical Hellenistic literature.

My skills as a social anthropologist then reside in my ability to describe the biblical phenomenon as a whole, not only in finding the literary sources of its theological and political project (the political dialogues of Plato) and in describing how these sources were adapted in the Bible itself, at the centre of the analysis, but also in analysing the conditions of its perpetuation. (p. 9)

Specifically, Dr Wajdenbaum’s conclusion is this:

The Bible is a Hebrew narrtive tainted with theological and political philosophy and inspired by the writings of Plato, one that is embellished with Greek myths and adapted to the characters and locations of the Near East. (p. 4)

This is crazy, most would surely say:

I understand fully how the present work may seem a priori simplistic. Every day of the four years that this research has lasted I have encountered reactions of doubt, hostility and resentment, but also (and fortunately) of benevolent curiosity. . . . I wish to express in this introduction how I was personally struck, even mortified by these discoveries, not so much because it damages a belief that I do not have, but because of the simplicity of the solution. The thesis is not childish in its simplicity for it is based on the complexity of the biblical text and its many sources. Still, my astonishment that a complete and neutral comparative study of the Bible with Plato had not been done before never decreased. All of this — reactions of hostility to the thesis and its absence during two millennia are objects of analysis for the anthropologist.

Implications for Christianity, too: (more…)

2011/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011/12/09

What I don’t like about “liberal” Christianity

Filed under: Fundamentalism — Neil Godfrey @ 7:56 pm
Tags: , ,

First the caveats. I do not like a lot about both of the mainstream political parties in Australia. I believe both parties have enacted some legislation that has caused  bitter damage to some peoples’ lives. But I do like a lot of people who strongly support or are even members of those political parties. The point is that one can dislike, even detest, certain viewpoints yet not be a jerk when it comes to human relationships. That includes religious viewpoints. I think I know how to distinguish between ideological (including humanitarian) argument and personal intolerance as well as one who has vehemently and publicly protested recent wars while maintaining a bond with an army-son voluntarily participating in one of those wars.

If you hate reading here is the synopsis of what is to follow: “Conservative” (US) of “fundamentalist (Aus) Christianity may believe a lot of weird stuff but so what? So does “liberal” Christianity, although those who call themselves “liberal” Christians may relabel some of their beliefs as “mysteries” or “unknowns” in place of “miracles”. But as may be distilled from the above paragraph, what really counts is the nature of a person. I have known good and bad people who are Christians, Jews or Muslims — “conservative/fundamentalist” or “liberal”. But though goodness or badness comes down to the nature of the person, it is also clear that there are certain belief systems that tempt, lead astray, deceive individuals into thinking and behaving badly towards their fellow creatures. (more…)

2011/10/20

Paul’s Gnostic heritage & Gnostic opposition

Filed under: Paul and his letters,Schmithals: Paul & Gnostics — Neil Godfrey @ 8:31 am
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Continuing from my last post — and in particular responding to the earlier commenters — here are some more shorthand notes from Walter Schmithals. Schmithals argues that Paul has a very Gnostic view of his apostleship in that for him an apostle is one who has a direct revelatory/visionary calling by God or Christ. In this he insists he is no different from those who were apostles before him, such as James the Lord’s brother, Peter/Cephas and John.

But there are other ways in which Paul separates himself from other Gnostic apostles who are apparently opposed to both Paul and the Jerusalem pillars.

In 2 Corinthians we read of

the demands which the Gnostic apostles in Corinth make upon Paul if they are to recognize him on an equal basis as an apostle, 44 . . . (p. 30 Paul & the Gnostics) (more…)

2011/06/16

Christianity’s history myth and myth of innocence

Filed under: Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 8:49 am
Tags:

I could retitle this “Religion’s history myths” and write about Judaism and the Moslem religions, too, and probably a few others. But it’s safest to stick to what we know best.

I was reminded while writing about the last chapter of Jesus Christ Harry Potter what miserable times inflicted so many in the Roman world that saw the growth and eventual dominance of Christianity. I get the impression that for many people the best means of escape was to escape life completely: celibacy, asceticism and martyrdom were for many the highest ideals one could aspire to in “life”. And one reads the with some pain the intolerance and hatred that sears through so many of the writings of the Church Fathers, and reflects on the brutality that must have accompanied the archaeological evidence of wanton destruction and humiliation of the religious and artistic works of the former era.

As I wrote in my previous post, I can’t help but be reminded of the reasons so many willing martyrs (e.g. suicide-bombers) have been found among certain groups today. When life is thought to be no longer worth living under certain conditions, when personal despair, humiliation, hopelessness, mean that an individual’s “real life” has effectively ended, when all this is so unbearable, some people prefer to swap their physical existence for a symbolic existence. (Compare my review of Ghassan Hage’s Against Paranoid Nationalism).

Martyrs are supposed to be shining beacons through the ages. But how can anyone respect the mentality that produced the letters of Ignatius. Do these express anything more inspiring than pornographic lusts for self-immolation?

The winners write their history, and Christianity’s birth and early growth have been upheld as times of glorious purity and heroism.

There are many sincere and good Christians today as there were then, no doubt. But try as they will to cover or explain away or even rebuke the sins of their brethren, does not their primary allegiance continue to offer a silver lining of respectability for the irrational and the darkness that has been at the core of this religion since the creation of that myth of innocence in the Gospel of Mark.

 

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2011/05/31

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

Crescent Moon (NASA, International Space Stati...

Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr

René Salm has translated the first two chapters of a fascinating study by Ditlef Nielsen, The Old Arabian Moon Religion And The Mosaic Tradition (1904) and made them available online at his Mythicist Papers resource page.

He has other resources there, too. Anyone interested in the origins of the “Nazarene” epithet [n-ts-r] applied to Jesus and early Christians, in the roots of the three-day death and resurrection concept in myth, of the (very early) background to what the later emergence of the Mandean or John the Baptist sect, the astrological basis for the Jewish sabbath and “magical” numbers, will find these resources indispensable. I have just completed the second chapter of Nielsen’s book and found it absolutely fascinating.

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2011/05/08

Jesus Potter Harry Christ, ch.6: Meeting Satan Again for the First Time

Filed under: Murphy: Jesus Pott Harry Chr — Neil Godfrey @ 4:17 pm
Tags: ,
The Draco (constellation) constellation from U...

Image via Wikipedia

Continuing my review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ. All review posts are archived here. (Updated 1 hour after original posting)

I found this chapter one of the most interesting so far because of the questions and possibilities it raises. In my youth I was a keen amateur astronomer but knew much less about the northern than the southern sky. Since those days I have become much more interested in ancient cultures and beliefs, so I was especially interested to learn that the constellation of Draco (= Dragon) marked the northern celestial pole and appeared to be eternally turning the cosmos around that pole. Another serpentine constellation, Hydra, surfaces and submerges along the horizon. Derek Murphy writes an interesting chapter suggesting how the movements of these constellations could have given rise to a number of our famous myths, and have been the basis for certain religions making symbolic use of them. (more…)

2011/05/02

The need to challenge liberal religion as well as fundamentalism

I’ve been catching up (thanks Mary) with other blog posts addressing atheism, in particular the New Atheists and their strident criticism of religion, in particular those appearing in response to R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views and posts by Stephanie L. Fisher. One that has particularly caught my attention, along with its related comments, is The Irrationality of Atheist Opposition to Atheism by Eric MacDonald. Part of my initial curiosity Eric’s post was learning that it was related to a lead post by Stephanie L. Fisher, and that Fisher’s post had subsequently been taken down. This is the second time this has happened recently — presumably on her own requests after others responded critically. (R. Joseph Hoffmann has since explained in a comment below that he removed Steph’s guest post as a matter of routine policy. I am sure Stephanie will like to repost it somewhere where it can have a more stable history.)

I enjoyed Eric’s post enough, and many of the related comments to it, and was incensed enough over assertions by some who like to be called humanists but object to being called atheists (even though they apparently do not believe in god/s), to join the fray with my own thoughts on the importance of atheists publicly challenging religious belief systems. My own thoughts are amateurish and inchoate compared with those expressed by Eric. But one has to start somewhere. Perhaps feedback can help me sort out with a bit more depth and rationality my own ideas. So here goes. (more…)

2011/04/29

Jesus Potter Harry Christ, ch.4: Going Pagan — a review

The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Cover art b...

The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Cover art by Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(All posts in this series are archived here.)

Chapter four of Jesus Potter Harry Christ is predominantly a survey of pagan deities and heroes whose stories contain echoes of the Jesus Christ story: Gilgamesh, Dionysus, Pythagoras, Orpheus, Asclepius, Osiris, Tammuz (Adonis), Attis, Mithras. Derek Murphy is not arguing that the Jesus story was a direct borrowing of any of these or that these pagan gods and heroes are the same thing as Jesus. What Murphy does argue is that it is important to understand the cultural and ideological background from which Christianity emerged. To this end, the very clear similarities between these pagan figures, and certain practices associated with the worship of some of them, are significant, and especially so in an age of unprecedented religious tolerance and syncretism.

The title of the book is an attempt to focus readers on the argument that literary borrowing is often a more subtle and complex cultural process than a simplistic, deliberate, one for one correspondence from earlier iconic figures and stories. The author is currently a PhD student in comparative literature so it is not surprising to find a wider range of literary models than the Harry Potter series sprinkled throughout the book. (more…)

2011/04/27

Interview with René Salm

René Salm discusses Nazareth and Nazarenes, James and Paul, Christianity and Buddhism, and Ventures Old and New

René Salm is best known for his publication The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus that reviews the state of the archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the supposed time of Jesus. I first came to know of Salm on the original Crosstalk discussion list where I was impressed with the way he debated the question with scholars. In the following interview Salm refers to his Crosstalk discussions and interested readers will find one of his earliest posts to that list on the topic of Nazareth here. Robert M. Price has reviewed Salm’s book here, and I have discussed another review of it here.

But René Salm has much more to contribute to the discussion of Christian origins than his studies on the archaeology of Nazareth, and the following interview will introduce readers to his investigations into Christian origins, including pre-Christian movements, such as the Natsarenes/Nazarenes and gnosticism, and the specific roles of James (“the brother of the Lord”) and the apostle Paul.

Salm is working on a new book and has been building a new website (Mythicist Papers) on Christian origins, both discussed below.

For a broader view of his interests and achievements, including as a writer and musician, follow these links:

Short story by René Salm

René Salm’s music page

Buddhist and Christian parallels

And of course his NazarethMyth.info webpage. This page includes further biographical information with a “personal statement” by Salm.

The Interview

1. What led to your interest in Nazareth archaeology?

René Salm: My interest in Jesus mythicism. As recently as ten years ago I was not a ‘mythicist’ and, in fact, would have considered the mythicist theory far too fringy to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I had not seriously considered it—because I hadn’t needed to. But, as my researches into Christianity deepened, I realized that Jesus’ very existence was much more open to doubt than I had previously imagined. This led to my Nazareth work. In the late 1990s I came across a couple of passages in obscure works which doubted the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Online (in the original Crosstalk forum) this doubt met very strident and universal opposition. (more…)

2010/11/01

Evolution and God go together like Newtonian physics and Hobgoblins

Filed under: Evolution, Science — Neil Godfrey @ 9:22 pm
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I tried to explain a technical computer fix to someone once over the phone. I ended up saying something like, “Press the X and Y keys, and a little man inside the computer will do ABC for you.”

Isn’t that the sort of fantasy nonsense that is required to reconcile evolution with a belief in a personal God who has a special thing for humans?

How does evolution work?

The combined effects of mutation, natural selection and the random processes of genetic drift cause changes in the composition of a population. Over a sufficiently long period of time, these cumulative effects alter the population’s genetic make-up, and can thus greatly change the species’ characteristics from those of its ancestors.

That’s from Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. The back cover blurb contains a panegyric by Richard Dawkins.

Now that makes humans no more unique, or pre-ordained, than sponges. There is no room for supernatural intervention in the terms “natural selection” or “random processes.”

If we like to think we can believe in evolution BUT God somehow guided it to make sure it produced us for Jesus Christ or Jehovah or Allah, then aren’t we kind of copping out, kidding ourselves, and really no different from the person who believes a computer works because there is a little man inside the thing making it work just right?

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2010/10/12

What Jesus Christ meant to Paul and the Thessalonians

Filed under: 1 Thessalonians,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 9:24 pm
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Resurrection of Christ

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One might fault my previous post on the grounds that the problem Paul was addressing among the churches of the Galatians did not require him to address anything apart from the simple fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Well, I at least faulted it for that reason.) This post attempts to demonstrate that the identical concept of Jesus as nothing more than a death and resurrection figure is found in 1 Thessalonians. This is generally considered the earliest or one of the earliest surviving letters of Paul.

Sometimes one hears the argument that Paul had no need to repeat details about Jesus’ teachings and life since he would have already established that when he first taught his converts face to face. This argument defies natural intuition and common experience: what has become established common experience or knowledge between parties is regularly drawn upon in later conversations for all sorts of reasons. The argument also runs up against Paul’s own explicit statements in this letter that he is consciously repeating things he taught them face to face — and one of these is that the command to love one another came from a source other than that of Jesus!

[Don’tcha just love this Noël Coypel painting of god completely starkers having to rise through the air in full public view, suspense killing everyone as the draft keeps the cloth strategically located, — though an angel has to be sent down to make sure the women at least keep looking at his eyes just in case!’  Reminds me of a kitsch cabaret show I once went to in Thailand (don’t ask), except for the angel.]

(more…)

2010/10/08

What did Jesus Christ mean to Paul and his readers?

Filed under: Galatians,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 3:54 pm
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In a recent post I discussed the ways Reason (or Logos) for the Stoic philosophers had a similar role or function to Christ (also a Logos) in Paul’s letters.

For both the Stoic philosopher and the Pauline Christian, the moment of conversion, when a person became “a new creation”, “in Reason or in Christ” and with “Reason or Christ in” them, and they being “in Reason or in Christ,” was when they were blessed with a “spiritual grasp or full insight” into the very nature and meaning of Reason, or Christ crucified and resurrected. This conversion moment when the neophyte attained a higher wisdom beyond that of “the natural man” also catapulted him or her into a new set of values and shared life and new identity with fellow believers.

Paul’s notion of Jesus Christ was indeed a technical concept about a single act God had performed for the salvation of believers. I use the word “technical” to stress a point, even though there was a strong emotional attachment to this “technical” stunt by God. (more…)

2010/08/29

Christian crock

Filed under: Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 11:59 am
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Having been a Christian myself once or twice, it would be hypocritical of me to put down anyone for their religious beliefs. I have even posted a few nice-ish things recently and in the past about the relevance of religion for many people. But lest it be thought I’m going all marshmellowy on the topic, here are a couple of mundane tidbits that have recently come my way. It’s too easy to ridicule some things, so I really should just let them speak for themselves.

I few weeks ago I received this email from the developers of a new Christian website: (more…)

2010/08/28

Christianity won over paganism by epitomizing pagan ideals

Filed under: New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 8:16 pm
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This continues my previous post, which was slightly misleadingly titled Why Christianity Spread So Rapidly . . .. It is for most part a distillation of Gregory J. Riley’s chapter, “Mimesis of Classical Ideals in the Second Christian Century”, found in Mimesis and Intertextuality edited by Dennis MacDonald. A related post is my discussion of Paul’s Christ crucified message and its relationship to Stoic philosophy, Why Paul did not need “the historical Jesus”. (Riley himself, however, is certainly not a Jesus-mythicist as far as I am aware.)

Riley is attempting to redress what he sees as an imbalance in the scholarship of early Christianity by pointing out that key Christian themes and messages originated in the Greco-Roman world, and were tacked on to Jewish heroes. Christianity’s attraction to many in the Roman empire lay in the way it epitomized the best and noblest of Classical ideals as it narrated these through very “paganized” Jewish characters.

Anyone familiar with the New Testament who reads the classical literature of Greece and Rome cannot help but notice the many coincidences of thought and expressions. This was certainly my own experience. Questions inevitably begin to arise as one sees this so often the more one reads. It is refreshing and enlightening to see Riley address this question head on.

This part 2 post looks at “what made the Christian Gospel something familiar and alluring, even captivating, for the masses of people of the Roman world.” (p.99) I flesh out some of Riley’s notes with quotations from the classical sources themselves. (more…)

2010/08/27

Why Christianity spread so rapidly to become the main religion of the Roman empire

Filed under: New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 5:31 pm
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Why did the number of Christians go from zero in the year zero to become the numerical majority of persons in the Roman world by about the year 350? How does one account for its dramatic success?

Many Christians themselves like to answer that question by appealing to the way Christian martyrdoms inspired the admiration of others, or to the power of witnesses who persuaded many that Jesus really had been raised from the dead. It was the miraculous work of God against all human odds that brought Christianity to the top.

A more plausible reason?

But would it make more sense if the reason was that Christianity itself encapsulated all the highest values of the Roman world as we find them expressed in their pagan traditional literature and stories. What if it was a religion that was increasingly seen as the epitome of what most people came to recognize as all that was good and noble in their pagan traditions?

The opening question is posed by Professor of Religion Gregory J. Riley and the answer he submits to it is:

It was the appeal of the early Church to the wider Greco-Roman society that fueled its rise, and that appeal was very much a result of its success in modeling the ideals of the culture as a whole. The early Christians imitated and copied the fundamental values found in the literature and stories of its wider culture as it formed its self-image and presented itself to the world. . . .

Christianity took hold in the empire as no foreign cult could (for example, Judaism, the Isis cult, and Mithraism) precisely because it was not foreign, but an expression and imitation of the best the empire had to offer.

(Riley, G. J. (2001) Mimesis of Classical Ideals in the Second Christian Century. In MacDonald, D. R. (Ed.) Mimesis and Intertextuality in Antiquity and Christianity (pp. 91-103). Harrisburg, Pa: Trinity Press International.)

But isn’t Christianity Jewish? (more…)

2010/08/23

Why Paul did not need “the historical Jesus”

Filed under: Engberg-Ped: Paul-Stoics,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 4:44 pm
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Chrysippus, Greek Stoic philosopher

Paul’s gospel is the revelation of Christ in the scriptures. What God has revealed “in these last days” to Paul is an understanding of the mystery of Christ long hidden in the Law, Psalms and Prophets.

The saving event that Paul continually exhorted his readers to grasp for themselves was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — especially the death part. He could say he was determined to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

I have found a very complex discussion by Troels Engberg-Pedersen (EP) of the relationship between Paul’s theology and the argument of contemporary Stoicism particularly interesting. EP does not attempt to explain every aspect of Paul’s thought as derivative of Stoic thought.  That obviously cannot be done. But EP does attempt to demonstrate through a detailed analysis of Romans, Galatians and Philippians in Paul and the Stoics that the basic structure and pattern of Paul’s Christ-event focus, and how it relates to conversion and new life among believers, follows the same logical argument that Stoics used of Reason or the Logos. (I use the term “Christ event” here to refer specifically to the death and resurrection of Christ.) (Other posts on EPs thesis are filed under the Engberg-Pedersen category linked above.)

To dangerously oversimplify, the similarity is this. Paul’s Christ performs the same function as Stoic’s Reason or Logos.

What happens is that the nonbeliever or self-centred “natural” person who lacks any awareness or comprehension of the Logos/Reason (for the Stoic) or Christ (for Paul) is living a benighted and vain life that leads nowhere worthwhile. (more…)

2010/08/15

Giving atheism a bad name (On Atheism, Religion, Humanism)

There is a wonderful article by Tamas Pataki at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/10/2979163.htm

Tamas Pataki is honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne and honorary fellow of Deakin University. His most recent book is Against Religion (Scribe, 2007). This is the first part of an edited version of the address he delivered at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, on 12 April 2010.

I have discussed his book Against Religion a few times on this blog — collated in the Pataki archive.

The whole article should be read for his nuanced views on atheism, religion and humanism.

I’ve tried to bottle a few of the passages that struck a chord with me below, but more for my own record. Read the full article at the above link. (more…)

2010/08/14

The confessional bias of scholarship’s quest for Christian origins

Scholar and his books by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout
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Even scholars who are attempting to find an “independent” and “socio-economic” explanation for Christian origins (such as James Crossley) are, like virtually all scholars involved in this quest, “driven by the Christian imagination” itself. Burton L. Mack explains the nature of this bias in his introduction to A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins.

The reader who dares to enter this discourse [of Christian origins] from the humanities or from the social sciences, cannot avoid coming to a certain conclusion. The events that center the massive amounts of scholarly learning are exactly those that haunt the average Christian imagination as well. They are exactly those suggested by the Christian gospel, the gospel that sets them forth as inaugural and foundational for Christian history and faith. (p. 8)

Christians well know that the claims in the Gospel that offer them personal conversion or a new life in Christ are very same ones that also explain the origin of the Church. These are:

  • Jesus
  • his teachings
  • his activities
  • the supper
  • the cross
  • the resurrection

And it is these that are the focus of scholarly studies of Christian origins. Mack continues: (more…)

2010/07/30

The mystical (not historical) “Christ in the flesh”

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 3:48 pm
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Between Earth and Heaven
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Those who argue that Christ was certainly a historical figure on the basis that the NT epistles speak of him as having been “in the flesh” are often overlooking the contexts and real meaning of that descriptor.

Curiously, while we read in the epistles of Christ being “flesh” at some point, we never read of him living and dying on earth. His flesh form is sometimes set in juxtaposition, even if implicitly, to his spirit form. (This point I owe to Doherty in his most recent book, as I do some other points in this post.) God himself throughout the OT is well known to have taken many different forms. In these cases, we see “flesh” used as an expression of a doctrinal and mystical meaning, not primarily as a reference to some fleshly life-cycle.

That is not to say that there are other reasons for arguing that Jesus was historical, but it can be misguided to bring the “flesh” descriptor into the fray.

Firstly, note the difference between “flesh” and “body” in relation to Christ — or to any spirit being in the ancient Mediterranean world. A “corporeal body” can be attributed to Jew and gentile alike to spirit beings. The evidence for this is laid out (largely through Riley’s work, Resurrection Reconsidered) in earlier posts:

Bodily ambiguities

Response 5 to Wright

So leaving bodies behind, we focus on the mystical flesh alone. (more…)

Did a Davidic Messiah have to be a descendant of David?

Filed under: Barker: The Great Angel — Neil Godfrey @ 12:15 am
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No. At least not in the time of Bar Kochba‘s revolt against Rome, 132-136 ce.

That’s if we can trust the later rabbinic evidence that attributed certain beliefs to famous Rabbi Akiba who supported Bar Kochba’s claim to be the messiah.

(The relevance of this discussion to Christian origins lies in the context of arguments that Jesus being said, at various places, to have been of the seed of David or of Davidic descent. For starters, given modern scholarly (archaeological) understanding of the reality of “King David”, and even the “Davidic dynasty”, there was evidently no such thing as a “family of David” existing in Palestine at the time of Jesus, before and later, anyway.)

Bar Kochba’s original name was Simeon ben Kosiba. It was subsequently changed to Bar Kochba, which was Aramaic for “Son of a Star”, an allusion to the prophecy of Numbers 24:17. (This sort of name change based on a pun on the original name in order to fit a biblical prophecy is worth keeping in mind when one compares other apparent puns in names found within the gospels.)

The rabbinic passage is discussing this bible’s reference to the plural “thrones” in heaven, one for the Ancient of Days, and another, presumably, for the Son of Man (Daniel 7:9, 13-14). The passage follows on from references to a biblical contradiction where God is described as an old man (with white hair) in Daniel 7, but as a young black-headed man according to their interpretation of Song of Solomon 5:11.

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were placed, and One that was ancient of days did sit!

— There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba.

Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.

Did he accept [this explanation from him, or did he not accept it?

— Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; this is the view of R. Akiba. (Hagigah, 14a) (more…)

2010/07/28

How Philo might have understood Christ in the NT epistles

Philo was a Jewish philosopher in Egypt who died around 50 ce. Much of his literary work was an attempt to explain Jewish beliefs in the language of Greek (or Hellenistic) philosophers.

Curiously (for us at least) he spoke of “a second God” who was a manifestation of “the High God”. This second God was the Logos.

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? (Genesis 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word [Logos] of the supreme Being (Questions on Genesis II.62)

On the face of it, this suggests that at least a significant number of Jews at the time Christianity was apparently emerging believed in “a second deity” — and if so, this would throw interesting light on the origins of Christianity with its belief in God the Father and his Son, also a deity, Jesus Christ.

The Christian belief, ever since rabbinic Judaism (after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ce), has stood in stark contrast to a supposedly monolithic monotheism of Jewish belief that permits no other God being apart from the One God. Jewish beliefs before 70 ce, on the contrary, are not so clear cut. Some scholars have gone to great pains to define what precisely was meant by “monotheism” when ancient Jews appeared to simultaneously recognize companion deities or at least very high angelic powers of some sort.

One scholar, Alan F. Segal, in a famous work, Two Powers in Heaven, attempts to explain Philo’s passage by suggesting he his following the Greek philosophers who found it inconceivable that a highest and purest deity could directly interact with the mundane creatures of this world, and so required some sort of mediating manifestation of himself to do this “dirty work”.

Another scholar, Margaret Barker (The Great Angel) is not persuaded by Segal’s explanation. She believes it is far more likely that Philo took the ideas of a mediating divinity from existing Jewish beliefs and adapted or described them in terms of Greek philosophy. That is, he did not attempt to play with the facts of Jewish beliefs to make them sound palatable to Greek philosophers. He merely used philosophical language to describe Jewish beliefs.

Barker cites H. Wolfson’s 1948 two volume study on Philo as one of her supports: (more…)

2010/07/26

Jewish scriptures as inspiration for a Slain Messiah

Filed under: Messianism,OT archaeology & literature — Neil Godfrey @ 7:01 pm
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Was it possible for Second Temple Jews to have imagined a Messiah who is unjustly killed solely by reading their Scriptures.

The Apostles in Acts are said to have preached Christ out of the Scriptures. Paul, and even other epistle writers, claim that their gospel was revealed to them through the scriptures and/or through the spirit of God — not oral tradition or personal encounters.

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him . . . (Romans 16:25-26)

the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Colossians 1:26)

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2)

the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:5)

and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, (Titus 1:3)

Although one often hears it said that no first century Jews were expecting a humiliated and crucified Messiah, the evidence one can read in the Jewish Scriptures surely suggests otherwise. Given the diversity of religious ideas we are led to understand blanketed the Second Temple era, and given the nature of the few scriptural passages that specifically and literally refer to “anointing” or “anointed” (=messiah), we would be very courageous to bet that no sects had such an idea.

Look at Psalm 2.2 for starters

The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed [=Messiah]

Now the rest of the Psalm goes on to recount God laughing at those plotting rulers and assuring his Messianic Son (whom he has begotten that day) that he will give him victory over his enemies.

Nonetheless, we do have passage that presents a clear threat to the Messiah, and one from kings and rulers.

It is surely not too much of a leap for any reader familiar with these scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, to let their mind wander to other psalms where David or God’s son is promised deliverance and exaltation over his enemies, but only after first being brought face to face with death itself. One finds similar motifs within Isaiah, where the servant of God (Israel – Isa.49.3, who is also God’s son – Exod.4.22 and Hos 11.1) is humiliated, despised, struck down, only to rise again in victory over his foes – Isa. 49 ff.

In Isaiah 11 we even read that such a son is, at least figuratively, a son of David. And in Isaiah 53 we find the same word to describe the “delivering up” of the Servant to humiliation as we find in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11:23 statement that Christ was “delivered up” on the night of the Last Supper (Doherty, p. 86).

But it wasn’t all suffering and exaltation for the Messiah. Isaiah 61.1 informs readers that the one anointed (a messiah) is to preach good news.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound

And this Isaiah passage cannot help but lead readers of this book to companion passages where one reads of the lame being healed, the blind being restored to sight, such as Isaiah 35

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,

And the tongue of the dumb sing.

And so the messiah will perform such miracles?

If we look at the career of kings who are said to have been “anointed” (messiahs) we find a similar mixed pattern.

Hazael (anointed 1 Ki 19.15) and Jehu (anointed 2 Ki 9.1-6) brought conquest and judgment upon those whom God sought to punish.

Saul (anointed 1 Sa. 9.10) also delivered Israel from her enemies for a time, but then was himself slain for his sin.

Joash of Judah (anointed 2 Ki. 1.32-45) likewise was chosen by God to save the Davidic line, but was also murdered for his subsequent sin against God’s prophet, Zechariah.

And we know the stories of David (anointed 1 Sa. 16.1, 13) and Solomon (anointed 1 Ki. 1.32-45) well enough. Both chosen by God, but both failed their God and suffered in different ways. David, in particular, had to flee from his kingdom, climbing the Mount of Olives in his own desperate straits and trusting in God for deliverance.

But these are all past human kings. If I were looking for a Messiah in the Scriptures who would be the Messiah of all Messiahs and bring in the age of God, would I not be guided by each of these, but also be open to something even greater than all that had preceded? If past messiahs broke physical kingdoms and ruled geographical areas for limited times, would not we want the final messiah to go one better and smash the powers that ruled all those kingdoms, and to take charge of them? I know, I’m jumping way ahead of the story, here.

This is only a  mind game, and we might think it’s too easy in retrospect to imagine how anyone might interpret the passages back then. But that’s why I am taking as my starting point only those passages that specifically mention the word for Messiah — the exact word that might trigger the imagination of an ancient Jew.

But how might at least some Jews have interpreted the following from Daniel? Are any at all likely to have played with its ambiguity? (more…)

2010/07/25

The right side of politics Down Under: Muslims good; atheists bad

Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany BayNo sooner do we read of one Liberal Party’s candidate being dumped by his party leader for suggesting that there is no place for Muslims in the Australian parliament, than we read of another Liberal Party candidate attacking the “ungodly” Labor leader and PM for being an atheist — and getting away with it! (The Liberal Party in Australia, to oversimplify somewhat, correlates with the Conservatives in the UK and the Republicans in the US.)

So what’s the lesson here? It’s politically correct at election time to be seen as tolerant towards Muslims; but as for being an atheist. . . ? Who cares?

Actually I don’t mind this approach to criticism of atheists. Let it all hang out. Let everyone see where everyone stands. It’s no big deal. It’s kind of funny to have politicians get up and rave about Australia being built on Christian values and how they always expect a “godly” leader. Australia? Founded on convicts, lashings, prostitution, petty tyrants among the good ‘uns, rum rebellion, — oh, and an Anglican pastor to keep it all in check? What’s the ratio of church goers to non-practicing Christians and “others” in Australia?

I suspect the Liberal Party leader’s decision to ignore the atheist jibe was quite healthy and a “true blue” Aussie response. I’d hate to see political correctness go mad and send to the guillotine anyone who raves about not believing in god and decrying how a godless prime minister simply cannot be a “godly ruler” etc. All a bit of a laugh for most in the audience.

It is the season, however, to be prudent with respect to Muslims. Hate crimes and bigotry and all that are all too real — it goes without saying. (Whoever planted a bomb outside an atheist’s convention in Australia?)

It is still real enough for a Liberal candidate to be quoted as saying that just one Muslim in Parliament must be seen as a march towards the day when Parliament will be all-Muslim! But of course, the mere fact that the sight of one of them in the “wrong place” leaves him down the slippery slope into nightmares of a taliban takeover of Australia, does not mean he has anything against Muslims personally.

Which leaves me in a delicate position at times. When I was once arranging for a leading State Muslim to conduct a public presentation to a general audience, I found myself being offered a copy of the Koran. As a gesture of good-will I accepted it, but later I had the misfortune to read it. It left the taste in my mouth of being just as mind-controlling and fear and authority obsessed as the Jewish and Christian books, only more blunt and obvious about it. So there I was, finding myself in a situation where I was seeking to foster community tolerance among two religious groups, Christians and Muslims, yet ironically having no personal sympathy or time for either of them!

As far as their beliefs were concerned, I saw (still do see) both as potentially harmful psychologically to individuals who took them too seriously. When I see some humanist scholars advocate a humanism that embraces the religiously minded as well, I do feel some revulsion. What has the anti-intellectualism at the heart of Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) to do with humanistic values? Why on earth does “spirituality” or the sense of the poetic and mystery and awe of life have to be tied exclusively to religion of any kind? But I also find myself recoiling from a few of the anti-Muslim statements of some such as Harris and Hitchens. Sure I have no time for the Muslim religion either, but these authors do seem to be unable to tease out the geo-political issues from the more universal religious concepts.

So I decided to focus entirely on the project I had got myself mixed up with as an entirely “social enterprise”. Strictly a civil service.

We’ll probably be stuck with religion as long as we will be stuck with astrology, witchcraft and the occult. If one can’t beat them, the least one can do, I guess, is to support any endeavour that promotes mutual understanding and respect.

Australia Day - Muslim Style

Image by gxdoyle via Flic

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2010/06/28

How theology mocks biblical history

Filed under: Dunn: Did Ch'ns worship Jesus,Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 2:04 pm
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Theology of the Court Jester, a theological re...

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It is slightly amusing, also disheartening, to see the way theologically biased biblical scholars make a complete mockery of their attempts to explain Christianity historically.

James G. Dunn did not like implications that could conceivably be drawn from the recent discussions of Bauckham and Hurtado over attempts to explain historically how Jesus came to be given a divine-like status and to be catapulted so early after his death to a position alongside God “at the center of their devotional life, including their worship practices”. Hurtado’s most recent book summarising many of the arguments and attempting an historical answer is provocatively titled: How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?

But throughout his valiant response to ensure that pure Christian doctrine is not compromised in anyone’s minds — and hence his Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? — Dunn apparently remains oblivious to the historical  implausibilities and contradictions he is creating for himself, and his orthodox model of Christian origins.

His worry is not primarily historical, but theological. He writes:

[T]here are some problems, even dangers, in Christian worship if it is defined too simply as worship of Jesus. . . . Christian worship can deteriorate into what may be called Jesus-olatry. That is, not simply into worship of Jesus, but into a worship that falls short of the worship due to the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I use the term ‘Jesus-olatry’ as in an important sense parallel or even close to ‘idolatry’. . . .

So the danger with a worship of Jesus is that the worship due to God is stopping at Jesus, and the revelation of God through Jesus and the worship of God through Jesus is being stifled and short-circuited. (p.147)

(my emphasis etc)

Here Dunn has cast off his historian’s hat and is batting exclusively for “the pure faith”. He warns of dangers, deterioration, “our” Lord Jesus Christ, and the violation of the second of the ten commandments. Oh dear. No room for history students here. Of course I have no problem with Dunn taking this stance. But if he also claims to be “doing history” he is discrediting his efforts and declaring that on this particular topic he is totally in the service of The Faith.

Dunn then finds relevance to his argument in the late antiquity and early medieval debate within the Christianity over the meaning and place of icons. The New Testament says Jesus is an icon (eikon=image), not an idol.

For, as the lengthy debate in Eastern Christianity made clear, the distinction between an idol and an icon is crucial at this point. An idol is a depiction on which the eye fixes, a solid wall at which the worship stops. An icon on the other hand is a window through which the eye passes, through which the beyond can be seen, through which divine reality can be witnessed.

Paul also says a man, any man who does not cover his head while praying, is an icon of God!

For a man indeed ought not to cover [his] head, since he is the image (eikwn) and glory of God (1 Corinthians 11:7)

Christians in particular are also said to be the very images of God himself:

and have put on the new [man] who is renewed in knowledge according to the image (eikona) of Him who created him (Colossians 3:10)

But I should leave that little question for the theologians to resolve.

Back to the historical difficulty that Dunn’s theology creates for the historian. . . . (more…)

2010/03/24

Introducing Doherty: his preliminary observations on ‘A Heavenly Christ’

Cosmic Christ

Cosmic Christ by Alex Grey: Image by eworm via Flickr

In between (re-)reading at least half a dozen other works I have had a chance to catch up again with Earl Doherty’s new book, Jesus: neither God nor man: the case for a mythical Jesus. My last post with reference to Doherty was my response to the introduction to this work. Here are some comments on my reading of his first chapter.

My notes do not by any means represent the extent and depth of Doherty’s work. I am merely picking out tidbits that I find easy and interesting enough to share in a few words.

The natural way to preach the message

Doherty refers to Peter’s speech in Acts 2:22-36 as being the sort of message that one might expect the early Christian evangelists to preach among new audiences. He talks about Jesus the man, his astonishing deeds on earth, and though crucified, how he was exalted to heaven where he was made Lord and Christ.

This would surely have been the most natural and inevitable way Christian discussion and preaching would proceed. The movement had supposedly begun as a response to a human man. (p.19)

It was the man Jesus who had had such a profound impact on his followers and that led them to abandon their homes and families, their old customs and livelihoods.

But it’s not how the evidence tells us it happened

But what do we find in the letters of Paul and other early writers? They start with the divine Christ, the figure of the Son in heaven, and make their faith statements about him. And there is no equation with an historical man, a human preacher and prophet who had recently lived. Paul believes in a Son of God, not that anyone was the Son of God. (p. 19)

Paul summed up the core of the message he had passed on to the Corinthians:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor.15:3-4)

Doherty wonders why the identity of the human incarnation of this Christ was not part of the central message — even why the incarnation itself is not central. But he grants that we may suspect Paul omitted such “preliminaries” in a summary like this. So he turns to Paul’s “definition” of Father and Son:

yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (I Cor.8:6)

Doherty opines:

This is language very reminiscent of Greek philosophy. But it would seem that a fundamental description of the Son is not to include the fact that he was incarnated in the person of a human Jesus, the man through whom information about the Son was presumably derived. Such an idea Paul never mentions. (p. 20)

Faith is very important in Paul’s writings:

  • Faith in Jesus as the way to life
  • Faith God raised Jesus from the dead
  • (Faith that Jesus died, apparently from some passages)
  • Faith God has revealed the mystery about Christ now
  • But no reference to faith that the man Jesus of Nazareth had been incarnation of this Son, etc.

Other epistles contain “quite fantastic” descriptions of this Son:

He is the image of the invisible God, his is the primacy over all created things. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created. . . In him the complete being of God, by God’s own choice, came to dwell. Through him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to himself. . . . (Col.1:15-20 NEB)

Here is a being who is the very reflection of God, the very agent through whom God created the universe, the same one through whom he holds it all together, yet there is not a single mention in the entire letter that this same supremely exalted being was once a man on earth who had died the death of a criminal and had been exalted to become part of the Godhead. Was not faith in such a man able to find any place any such writings? Compare also the book of Hebrews.

The question that scholarship has never asked, yet is the most natural one of all

(more…)

2010/03/07

Introduction to Earl Doherty

Jesus: Neither God nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus

I recently received Earl Doherty’s new book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. The Case for a Mythical Jesus, and have finally caught up with a chance to begin reading it. It may take a little while since I have a vicious habit of reading several things at once and a need to attend to real life occupations at the same time. But I have made a start by reading the Introduction and have been reminded why I have in the past found exchanges with Doherty both informative and stimulating gateways to knew perspectives. We often disagree, but then again I also tend to find I disagree with myself when I take a re-look at what I wrote a year or more ago.

I cite here a few quotations from Doherty’s introduction to his new book that make me look forward to entering new explorations of the evidence with him, and no doubt in dialogue with him, as I read further.

First, however, I might remark that I do not see this particular question — the existence or otherwise of Jesus — as a historical question. It is certainly important for history, but my personal interest is in engaging with the arguments and evidence presented by Doherty with a view to seeing how they might fit in the broader (and more historical) question of Christian origins. Doherty is certainly essential reading for that question. But his focus is, naturally and justifiably, primarily on the cultural question of the origin of what is possibly our central icon.

Enough preliminaries. On to a selection of quotations with a few comments. . . . (more…)

2010/02/24

Even an atheist finds an historical Jesus in his own image

The shallow and contradictory foundations for “scholarly” assumptions and beliefs in “the historical Jesus”, by both Christian and atheist scholars, are brought out in this recent remark forwarded to me by someone who found it on Exploring Our Matrix:

I think this is my #1 reason for not being a mythicist. I consider it appropriate to create and/or adopt a theory that fits the evidence, rather than vice versa, whenever possible and to the greatest extent possible. This is also, I suspect, the #1 reason that I’ve compared mythicism and creationism. It is not that history and the natural sciences function in precisely the same way or offer comparable levels of certainty. They don’t. But in the case of both mythicism and creationism (both of which have many permutations and varieties) I see a deliberate attempt to reinterpret evidence to fit an already-adopted theory, when that evidence can be explained in a straightforward and persuasive matter by another theory.

The first sentence is a truism. It is a motherhood statement that any and everyone will claim they believe and follow. So we can move on to the next point:

This is also, I suspect, the #1 reason that I’ve compared mythicism and creationism. It is not that history and the natural sciences function in precisely the same way or offer comparable levels of certainty. They don’t. But in the case of both mythicism and creationism (both of which have many permutations and varieties) . . . .

I demonstrated (Creationist slurs) how Associate Professor of Religion, James McGrath, posits his own idiosyncratic self-serving definitions of “creationism”. His new point of comparison is that mythicism is like creationism because both have “many permutations and varieties”. I am not sure if he is serious or joking or having a late night.

One can count as many as 4 mythical Jesus varieties to 20 historical Jesus permutations on this eight year old page alone: Historical Jesus Theories.

Accusing the majority of historians of being the minority

It is also interesting that in the same passage James takes the chance to include his own area of biblical studies under the general class of “history” — as if the historical tools and methodologies of Jesus scholars are in any way comparable to the tools and methodologies found among what is usually thought of as History in academia. When I have pointed out to him that “minimalists” who have finally had some measure of success in bringing the study of the biblical kingdom of Israel up to the same standard of normal historical analysis and enquiry found in historical studies generally, his reply has been to suggest that it is their methodology as the minority one!!!! (See here where James writes: “I’m willing to listen if you want to explain why the minimalist historians working on ancient Israel should be the standard for the entire discipline of history.” In fact the so-called “minimalists” are actually arguing that secondary evidence should be interpreted through the lens of primary evidence and avoid all pre-suppositions about the historicity or otherwise of the secondary evidence.)

Finding the “Historical Jesus” who fits our own image

I see a deliberate attempt to reinterpret evidence to fit an already-adopted theory . . . .

This is another somewhat unscholarly claim. James knows Albert Schweitzer’s famous remark that each historical Jesus scholar has tended to find in the evidence a Jesus who turns out to be the very image of the scholar! And it has been no different since then.

  • The Irish Catholic John Dominic Crossan found a Jesus who was an anti-imperialist revolutionary.
  • Rabbi Hyam Maccoby finds a Jesus who was a rabbi.
  • There is even the “mystical” John Shelby Spong’s Jesus who is not to be found in flesh, but who is yet historical but can only be found in some mystical experience.
  • And more recently existentialist philosopher John Carroll’s existentialist Jesus.

And a recent commenter on this page in Exploring Our Matrix was popular atheist and Christian debunker, ex-evangelical preacher John W. Loftus himself, coming out and arguing for his own historical Jesus. He has argued the same again here.

Guess what John’s historical Jesus looks like . . . .

  • It’s a cultic charismatic Jesus who was a failed apocalyptic preacher.

John Loftus has also argued elsewhere (on FRDB) that his particular historical Jesus is the one that attracts his audiences and that his motive is to change “the religious landscape”. So we can be have some justification for thinking that John’s particular type of historical Jesus is no accident or disinterested outcome of objective research.

So from Christian Schweitzer to Christian debunking atheist Loftus, one can see the evidence for the “deliberate reinterpretation of the evidence to fit already adopted historical Jesus theories”.

Blinded by our cultural icons

. . . . when that evidence can be explained in a straightforward and persuasive matter by another theory.

Our deep seated cultural heritage makes it impossible for some of us to see just how nonstraightforward and unpersuasive the gospel narratives are as attempts to write real history. The fact is (as I have been discussing recently) that leading historical Jesus scholars such as E. P. Sanders assume from start to finish the historicity of Jesus, and never go further than discussing plot details to decide which bits are more plausible than others (e.g. Jesus going to a synagogue is more plausible than him walking on water) and work with nothing more than the self-serving and contradictory “tools” of “criteria of authenticity”. (See my comment and reply by Steven Carr here on the contradictory and self-serving nature of these tools.)

I wonder if the tendency to see the historical Jesus who supports our own place and identity within our wider culture should be seen as instructive about the real significance of the the hostility of many biblical scholars against “Jesus mythicism”.

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2010/02/15

Schweitzer’s comments on the historical-mythical Jesus debate

Albert Schweitzer argued against those who denied the historicity of Jesus, but he also had a few things to say about the way in which the debate between mythicists and historicists was conducted in his day. This post lists some of those thoughts that I believe are still relevant. His advice about what mythicists need to do also resonates well with my own reflections that I have attempted to express at times in this blog and on other discussion boards.

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century. (p.394, the 2001 Fortress edition of Quest throughout)

Schweitzer squarely laid the blame on the “mythicists” of his day: they gratuitously provoked “mainstream biblical scholars”, and the latter in return “generally answered in an unfortunately similar manner.” Today the situation is reversed. It is mainstream scholars who have initiated the bloodletting today. I witnessed this around ten years ago on the Crosswalk discussion list when Earl Doherty made an appearance, and then some time later, René Salm.

But even then on that first Crosswalk discussion list there were academics who did their profession more credit. As in Schweitzer’s day, it is true to say

However, there was no lack of attempts to establish a peaceful and worthy discussion. (p.395)

Dilettantes and Fathers

It is not surprising that the dilettantism of the [mythicists’] presentation received full, indeed sometimes immoderate, coverage in the debate . . . .

Refutations were almost too prompt and numerous.

For impartial observers it was all most instructive. The proceedings gave them some notion of the Gnostic battles of the middle of the second century AD. The mentality of many free-thinking theologians began to reveal a strange and bitter resemblance to that of the fathers who battled against heresy at that time. Like them, they felt themselves called upon to protect the spiritual welfare of the defenceless masses who were in danger of being craftily deluded.(p.395)

One might see the same happening today also in relation to agnostic and atheistic bible scholars who feel a need to protect the “intellectual integrity” of their audiences.

Thus H. Weinel added a ‘practical appendix’ . . . to his book Is the Liberal Picture of Jesus refuted?, which was intended to instruct clergymen on the logic and facts with which they could best confound Drews and his companions at public meetings. (p.395)

This has its modern counterpart with the abundance of web pages professing to give their readers lists of counter-arguments against Doherty’s web and print publications.

Superficial responses

As the polemical works for and against the historicity of Jesus were on the whole written rather quickly and were intended to be within the intellectual grasp of a wide, in fact the widest possible, readership, their level of scholarship was not generally very distinguished, and sometimes, in view of the authority of the writer, remarkably low.

We again see this so often today. So often a “mainstream scholar” will dismiss an argument from a “mythicist” with a reply that he would surely never dare expect to share with his peers. Arguments and presumptions that are widely treated as working hypotheses are presented as absolute facts. As a layman I came to learn that when I read a scholarly article apologizing that a particular point had not been extensively researched, it as often as not seemed to mean that it had not been researched at all. I also came to see how certain interpretations changed in line with more general social and cultural developments through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was not hard to see that some assumptions and interpretations reflect wider political developments rather than any new evidence or methodologies. Many scholars know all this, of course. But some among the field of biblical studies seem to overlook it all when it comes to exchanges with “mythicists”.

When I was studying in depth the Jesus passages in Josephus, I sought out scholarly articles in the literature, both new and old, and read all I could that offered any sort of depth to the discussions. When on Crosstalk I pointed to a fallacy or weakness in a common argument for “a Josephan core” reference to Jesus, I was advised by one good doctor of biblical studies to seek out and read Bruce’s single page dot-point summary of the “core” argument. This, I was assured, would bring my knowledge of the discussion up to the required standard to participate in a discussion with the learned ones. In other words, one had to have the correct conclusions to participate.

One also reads arguments that declare without qualification that there was a widespread and single form of popular Jewish expectation of a messiah at the turn of the century in connection with these discussions. Yet such scholars surely know that such a concept is nowhere to be found or repeated in their literature that deals specifically with this question. (Fitzmyer included, aspects of whose work I have discussed here and on other sites.)

These and other similar personal experiences eventually led me to wonder if some academics themselves rely merely on such summary tracts or undergraduate introductions when referencing supporting assumptions to their main works.

In the main the strategy of the debate has been to reveal the opponent’s mistakes. Those who deny the historicity of Jesus point out the many and profound weaknesses which the thoughtless popularism of modern theology has displayed for ears and which have made theology particularly vulnerable; the defenders of the traditional view fasten on the shortcomings of the philological and historical hypotheses of their opponents. But on both sides, as in the Gnostic struggles, only the most superficial and obvious aspects of the problem have in fact been considered. No attempt has been made to tackle the full extent of the question. (pp.395-6)

One bible scholar has repeatedly pointed me and others to chapter 2 of Weaver’s book, The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1950, to read when and where the “mythicist” case has been repeatedly rebutted and is no longer worth discussing. It seems that such a scholar is satisfied that so long as someone has published a counter argument, and so long as the question has been effectively ignored by the mainstream, then the case has been “rebutted”, and that long ago and ‘many times’. When I respond with actual citations from Weaver and some of those so-called rebutters themselves, and some of the responses their arguments have elicited, and with these citations open his assertions to question, the discussion invariably comes to an end and he withdraws for a time. A reply and a bypass do not equate with a rebuttal. (I know there have been several “replies”, but I also see that they are in the main echoes of one another, and are substantially the one reply that for most part addresses twigs, straw men and red herrings.)

Addressing the complexity of the problem

The complexity of the problem is such that there are four main questions to be considered: these concern the philosophy of religion, the history of religion, the history of doctrine and the history of literature. (p. 396)

1. Philosophy of religion question

(more…)

2010/01/28

Starting a new religion with The Gospel of John

Filed under: Ashton: Understand 4th Gospel,Gospel of John — Neil Godfrey @ 7:52 am
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Cover of "Understanding the Fourth Gospel...

Cover of Understanding the Fourth Gospel

One of the more absorbing books I caught up with about a year ago is Understanding the Fourth Gospel (2nd ed) by John Ashton. (I had read somewhere that this is the book to read for anyone wanting to understand what could be understood about this gospel. It obviously had something of interest for me — since writing this post I noticed I have written on snippets of this book several times before, now collated here.)

Of many insights I would like to revisit and share, here’s one I opened up again just now. It shows how this gospel, unlike other Jewish literature and, say, Matthew’s gospel, declares itself (through its Jesus) as the foundation of a new religion. Nothing new really in the big scheme of things here, but it does give another glimpse into the mind and context of the author of this gospel.

The life of Moses furnishes an ample reservoir of legends from which Jewish writers of all persuasions could draw when searching for fresh models, symbols or arguments to encourage and inspire their own contemporaries.

Thus Deuteronomy gives a new twist to some of the earlier episodes involving Moses in Exodus and Numbers.

The same book anticipates further room for story development by announcing a future prophet “just like Moses”.

Since the Exodus story is, among other things, a foundation myth, the frequency with which other writers turn to it should not surprise us. What may cause surprise is the number of guises in which Moses appears . . . .

  • leader and legislator
  • inventor and engineer (Artapanus)
  • prophet (Josephus)
  • sage in an allegorical country where the wise man is king (Philo)
  • a shepherd of his people (Testament of Moses; Pseudo-Philo)

Moses figure in:

  • Attic style drama (Ezekiel the Tragedian)
  • allegory (Philo)
  • historical romance (Artapanus)
  • history (Josephus)
  • testament genre (Testament of Moses)

But Moses was not the only inspirational option available to writers.

Books were also written in the names of Enoch, Baruch, Ezra.

The key thing to note about all of the above:

Yet although they were proposing new revelations they were not repudiating the old.

Where the Gospel of John is different:

Where the fourth evangelist differs from all of these, as well as from those who exploited the Moses tradition, is in his conscious substitution of this tradition by the story of Jesus: ‘You search the scriptures,’ Jesus tells ‘the Jews’, ‘and I am the one to which they bear witness’ (5:39). The deliberate replacement of one founder-figure by another (the same step would be taken centuries later by Mohammed) is effectively the proclamation of a new religion. We may compare John with Matthew here, for whom Jesus is a second Moses, refining and purifying the law, but not replacing it (5:17). John, by contrast, puts the law aside, offering instead, in the name of Jesus Christ, ‘grace and truth’ (1:17). Similarly the Temple, the second pillar of contemporary Judaism, was for Matthew a place where Jesus’ disciples continued to offer their gifts: whereas in John the locus of Christian worship has shifted to a place of ‘spirit and truth’ (4:23) [p. 448]

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