Vridar

2012/09/08

Early Christ Myth Theorists on Paul’s and the Gospels’ Jesus: ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ ch. 6 continued.

When starting this post I had hoped it would complete my discussion of Robert M. Price’s chapter, “Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?” in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’. This was meant to address Price’s reasons for thinking that the gospel narratives of Jesus — or any stories of an earthly life of Jesus — first made their appearance well into the second century. I have sometimes argued the same, but Price does so from a quite different perspective (drawing on what we know of Marcion and early Marcionism) from anything I had considered.

Before getting into Price’s argument some background was necessary. Unfortunately or otherwise, that background turned into a substantial post of its own, so here it is now. Price’s arguments for a second century creation of the gospels will have to wait. This post continues Price’s comparative study of early mythicist views of the relationship between Paul’s letters and the narratives of Jesus found in the gospels. Regardless of the date of Paul’s letters, this has long been the foundation of the Christ Myth theory.

As I pointed out in the first post on this chapter, Price discusses the views of today’s pre-eminent mythicists, G. A. Wells and Earl Doherty, noting their preference for the orthodox view of the Pauline epistles. That is, that they are written by “the genuine” Paul and thus belong to the middle of the first century, well before the gospels were penned.

It is now necessary to look at the earlier arguments for sake of comparison, as Price does.

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Paul-Louis Couchoud

Paul-Louis Couchoud

Paul-Louis Couchoud accepted the genuineness of Pauline letters “at least in their shorter, Marcionite editions”.

He argued that Marcion penned 2 Thessalonians and Ephesians (known originally as Laodiceans) , but also that he wrote the first gospel — after the Bar Kochba revolt (133 c.e.) — and lived to see other gospels expand upon his.

Price sees here a potential acceptance of the possibility that one could write “Pauline” letters that contained no hint of an historical Jesus even though one was aware of a narrative of such a Jesus. But Price also concedes that in this case there was little opportunity for biographical references to Jesus to appear in a letters that were written in direct response to, or as commentaries upon, earlier letters (1 Thessalonians and Colossians.) (more…)

2012/03/15

Jesus, Neither Man Nor Myth

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

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

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

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

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

Why Christ is not a myth (more…)

2012/03/12

Jesus Formed (Couchoud)

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

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

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

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

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

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JESUS FORMED

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

2012/03/11

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

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

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

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

Marcion the person and his contribution to Christianity

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

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

2012/03/06

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

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

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

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

p. 119

THE CELESTIAL HIGH PRIEST

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

2012/03/05

Only by his death does Jesus become historical

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for Roman insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion. (p.8 of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews by Paula Fredriksen)

The same was said by one of the most renowned of critical scholars of yesteryear.

Alfred Loisy is quoted as holding similar thoughts. His critical analysis of the Gospels leaves him thinking that there is only one certain historical fact to be found in them:

There is no actual consistency in the Gospel story, save the crucifixion of Jesus, condemned by Pontius Pilate as a Messianic agitator.

This is cited from La Passion de Marduk, “Rev. d’Hist et de Litt. Relig.,” 1922, pp. 297-8 in The Enigma of Jesus by Paul Louis Couchoud (translated by Winifred Whale), 1924, p. 70.

Couchoud elaborates on Loisy’s view:

To his affirmation on this point Loisy has always adhered. In his autobiography, which is a master-piece of the literature of the mind, the grave and dramatic story of a conscience, he says, under the date 1894: —

Not a single incident in the whole symbolic narrative did I accept literally save that Jesus had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. [Choses Passées, 165]

In 1907 he wrote:–

If Jesus was not condemned to death as King of the Jews, that is as Messiah, by his own confession, one might just as well maintain that he never existed. [Les Evangiles Synoptiques, I, p. 212]

In 1910 he repeated:–

If this fact could be called in question, there would be no reason to maintain the existence of Jesus. [Jésus et la Tradition Evangélique]

Thus, only by his death sentence does Jesus become historical. The thread is very thin. Does this imply that Loisy accepts the story of the Passion as history? Far from it. Almost all the incidents of the cycle of the Passion —

far from constituting a series of recollections, . . . have been deduced from biblical texts. . . . One might almost say that the Passion was built up on Psalm xxii. . . . Facts are related because of their mystical value, not according to their historical development. . . . The only consistent part of the whole trial is the offence of the Messianic aspiration. [La Légende de Jésus, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Litt. Relig.,” 1922, p. 434, 453, 435, 448]

Loisy regards the greater part of the Passion story as mythological:–

The Gospels do not relate the death of Jesus. They relate the myth of salvation realized by his death, perpetuated in a way by the Christian Eucharist, sympathetically commemorated and renewed in the Easter Festival. The Christian myth is withoutdoubt related to the other salvation myths. It is by no mere chance that the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his death coincides with the ritual of the Feast of Adonis. The Barabbas incident, the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of the empty grave, are apologetic fictions. The incident of the two thieves crucified with Jesus may well be of the same order. And there is no reason why their invention should not have been facilitated or suggested in one way or another by mythologies of surrounding countries. [La Passion de Marduk, “Rev. d’Hist et de Litt. Relig.,” 1922, pp. 297]

But the bare fact of the crucifixion of Jesus sentenced by Pontius Pilate, that remains invulnerable. Despite Psalm xxii, which is put into the very mouth of Jesus on the Cross, and which is quite enough to set the mystical imagination working on the crucifixion; despite Paul’s express declaration that Jesus was crucified by Celestial Powers (and Pilate was certainly not one of them), Loisy maintains the crucifixion of Jesus sentenced by Pilate to be incontestable. Well assured of this historical fact, he fearlessly wields the trenchant blade of his criticism to cut away nearly all the rest.

I imagine a wood-cutter astride on a big branch and hacking the tree trunk. As each splinter flies away, those below cry out: “Take care! It will break and you will fall! He answers with a knowing smile: “Don’t be afraid! However little I have, I shall be able to hold on to it.”

Astride on Pilate’s judgment given by reason of Messianic agitation, all that Loisy saves of the Gospels is such passages as may fit in with the action and the doctrine of a Messianic agitator. According to this criterion, he decides whether a passage has the air of antiquity and reality. The rest is rejected. Thus he arrives at a Jesus who is very thin and very meagre, but who is consistent, comprehensible, coherent, and historically possible.

If one reduces the Jesus of the critics to terms of actual history, one obtains something like the following:–

Couchoud here reminds us of what we learn of the period 6 to 66 ce from the historian Josephus. . . .

In the year 6 of our era, Judas the Galilean attempted to oppose the census instituted by the legate P. Sulpicius Quirinius, and founded the groups of Zelotes, who recognized no other master than God.

Somewhere between 44 and 46, the Prophet Theudas, at the head of a band of followers, marched towards the Jordan and Jerusalem, proclaiming that the waters of the Jordan would divide at the sound of his voice. The Procurator, Cuspius Fadus, had the band dispersed by his cavalry. The Prophet’s head was brought to Jerusalem.

Somewhere between 52 and 58, an Egyptian Jew led a mob as far as the Mount of Olives, promising that the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command. The Procurator Felix sallied forth at the head of the garrison. Four hundred fanatics were killed, two hundred taken prisoner: the Egyptian disappeared.

To these three must be added a fourth, omitted by Josephus, reconstituted by Loisy. Somewhere between 26 and 36, a Galilean peasant, a village artisan named Jesus,

“began to proclaim the coming of God. After preaching for a while in Galilee, where he enlisted only a few followers, he came to Jerusalem for Easter, and there all he succeeded in accomplishing was to get condemned to death on the cross, like any common agitator, by the Procurator, Pontius Pilate.” [A. Loisy, Les Premières Années du Christianisme, “Rev. d’Hist et de Litt. Relig.,” 1920, p. 162]

That is all that is known about him. Everything else was imagined by the marvellous faith of his disciples. (The Enigma of Jesus, pp. 71-74)

John Crossan has “infamously/famously” made the same point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EUxTVGiHLco

Indeed, the adherence of scholars to the crucifixion of Jesus as the one single absolutely certain bed-rock fact is instructive. Historical Jesus scholars claim to possess the alchemical-like powers to produce facts out of criteria where only fictional or theological tales existed before. One of these criteria holds that if a narrative details serves a theological interest or appears to be there to fulfil a Scripture, then it is reasonable to hold its historical authenticity as suspect.

But was not the very concept of the crucifxion of Jesus entirely a theological construct from the very first time it appears in the record in Paul’s writings?

And if the single most solid “fact” about Jesus is entirely a theological event where is that remaining stick that would save the wood-cutter from falling? The image can be more ironic if one imagines the tree resembling a cross.

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2012/03/03

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

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

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

The passing of the prophets

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

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

The strengths of the prophets were also their undoing:

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

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

2012/02/12

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

The Revelation of St John: 2. St John's Vision...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came the next turning point in church history:

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

In footnotes Couchoud adds

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

So this left John (more…)

2012/02/04

Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question

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

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

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

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

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2012/01/20

Couchoud on Acts of the Apostles

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

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

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

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

Marcion’s Gospel closed with the words:

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

Luke saw what was not said so added:

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

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

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

Acts of the Apostles – and of the Holy Spirit

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

2012/01/05

Historical memory in the Gospel of Mark: a radical twist

Filed under: Gospel of Mark — Neil Godfrey @ 9:43 am
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The Daughter of Jairus

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On my way to post something on the Old Testament again I met a strange idea in a very old book, one published in 1924 and with an introduction by the renowned if obsolete Sir James Frazer.

Now I happen to think the best explanation for the source of those miracles by Peter in the Book of Acts — those where he heals the paralyzed Aeneas and raises the deceased Dorcas — is that they were borrowed and adapted from the Gospel of Mark’s accounts of Jesus healing the paralyzed man and raising the daughter of Jairus.

But Paul-Louis Couchoud long-ago published an idea that had not crossed my mind before, or at least one I had quickly forgotten if it had.

To introduce this arresting idea Couchoud accepts as “very probable” the ancient rumour that circulated about Mark writing down from memory the things Peter had told him.

According to an Ephesian tradition dating from the early part of the second century, Mark had been the dragoman of Peter (whose only language was doubtless Aramaic); and Mark wrote down later from memory, but without omission or addition, all that he had heard from Peter about the oracles and miracles of the Messiah. This is very probable. Only one might suspect Peter’s conversation of having been revised under Paul’s influence. For if, in Mark’s Gospel, Peter and the Galilean Apostles are everywhere in the limelight, it is only to play the parts of totally unintelligent and cowardly persons, who are in striking contrast to the ideal figure of the Messiah. Yet, after all, Peter, with whom we are unacquainted, may have been capable of representing things in this piquant and modest manner. (p. 42)

I have a more literary take on the Gospel of Mark and see little reason to think of it as a collection of memoirs. But sometimes other ideas contain germs of concepts that may be developed in new directions.

But then Couchoud gets closer to his radical idea. (more…)

2012/01/01

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

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

Back to Marcion

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

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

2011/12/29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011/12/28

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

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

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

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

2011/12/27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next post, the Roman reaction: the Gospel of Mark

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Another explanation of Gospel origins from a Christ Myth perspective

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

Couchoud attributes the first gospel to Marcion.

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

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

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

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

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

2011/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011/04/02

Interview with Earl Doherty

I asked Earl Doherty a few questions about his background and what led him to his Christ myth views; his understanding of the relationship between atheism and mythicism, and atheism in genera; influences leading to his own distinctive views and public/scholarly reactions to the mythicism, and towards him personally; his place in the history of the Christ myth idea and what he sees as the future status of Christ-mythicism. I also asked him about his website and books, including his novel.

His responses address other mythicists such as G. A. Wells and Paul-Louis Couchoud, a few mythicism’s current critics, and his views on American novelist Vardis Fisher. (The name of this blog, Vridar, is taken from the autobiographical character in Vardis Fisher’s final novel in his Testament of Man series, Orphans in Gethsemane.)

I am sure others will find his replies as interesting as I did.

And a special thanks to Earl for making time to respond as he did. I include a link to his Age of Reason and Jesus Puzzle websites at the end of his responses to my questions.

————-

1. What led to your interest in the Christ myth theory?

Earl D: In 1982 I read a couple of books by G. A. Wells, and I was quite taken aback. While I had vaguely heard of the ‘no historical Jesus’ idea during the 1970s, I tended to regard it as unlikely. Not, however, based on any particular knowledge of the subject. But that has enabled me to understand the automatic dismissal which the Christ myth theory usually receives from those who really know very little about it. In 1984, after finishing a novel I had been working on for some time, I began to read more widely, and soon decided I would undertake my own research of the question, perhaps with a view to writing my own book. While I have a high respect for Prof. Wells, I felt that the subject could use a different approach. Fortunately, I had studied ancient Greek in university during the 1960s, as part of a degree in ancient history and classical languages. I could build on that earlier education and supplement it with my own private study. Before long, I guess you could say it became an obsession. (more…)

2011/03/10

Qumran and Paul: Echoes of Mystical-Vision Salvation

One of the reasons I have been looking at the visionary ascent experiences of Jewish and Christian devotees is to expand my understanding of the nature and place of the vision of Isaiah’s ascent and all that he saw and heard in the Ascension of Isaiah. I began to look at the Ascension of Isaiah in some detail a little while back because of the use made of it by Earl Doherty in his own case for the idea of a pre-gospel Christ being entirely a spirit entity whose saving act occurred within the spirit realm and not on earth. (Paul-Louis Couchoud argued for a similar conclusion.) Before returning to the Ascension — which describes another ascent, transformation and vision, as well as a descent of a Beloved of God to be crucified by Satan — I complete here the texts I have been looking at that help flesh out the context of such visionary ideas. I conclude with similar thoughts expressed in Paul’s letters, indicating that some of the teachings found there owe something to this form of religious experience as a way to salvation. Both the Qumran and Pauline references are from April DeConick‘s Voices of the Mystics. (more…)

2010/10/21

Goguel’s critique of the Christ Myth. Hoffmann’s response. And Doherty

I discuss here Goguel’s critique of the Christ Myth as seen through the eyes of two biblical scholars, mainly R. Joseph Hoffmann, and very briefly Christopher Price. I conclude with my own understanding of the reason (bias) underlying Hoffmann’s perspective of Goguel in his anti-mythicist arguments, and an alternative perspective from Earl Doherty.

Hoffmann compares this book by Goguel with the one discussed in the preceding post by Case:

Whatever its argumentative shortcomings, this section of Goguel’s work [attempting to show that the theology in Paul’s letters and in the apocalypses presupposes the gospel tradition] is especially important in setting out the assumptions and terms of the debate between the myth theorists and defenders of historicity. Goguel is by far superior to other defenders* of historicity because he is willing to acknowledge the serious aporiai of locating fugitive biographical details in a swirl of theological and mythological embellishment. He does not deny, for example, the missionary purpose of the gospel writers. He does not suggest that the reporting of “objective” fact (“natural supernaturalism”) is a part of any evangelist’s agenda. . . . (p. 32-3)

* In this paragraph Hoffmann footnotes to Shirley Jackson Case’s The Historicity of Jesus in its 1928 edition as an example of “other defenders.” (more…)

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