Thursday, May 21, 2009

Creating Jesus 11: The Name Angel

I hope that these posts aren't getting too long and disjointed. I worry that bits and pieces are getting lost in between the posts. I want to keep reminding us that this tagging of Jesus with these various titles and scriptures isn't a linear process. And when one tag is made, it brings with it a host of connected tags and ideas. I also want to keep reminding us that what we have, even in Paul, is the "end" of the process of tagging - I don't mean by this that the tagging doesn't continue, it does, but every author is giving us the result of the tagging process he is aware of. So what we have to do as scholars is try to figure out how that particular picture of Jesus came about. We have to work backwards, often against the grain.

So what we know from the early sources is that Jesus' death was central in the development of Christology, not so much that they were trying to give his death theological meaning (i.e. atonement or overcoming passions), but that they were trying to figure out why he died when they weren't expecting it, at least as a criminal. They begin with what would have been a very natural explanation - he was a prophet who was rejected and a righteous man of God who was martyred. His death was important because it was a martyr's death which atones for the sins of Israel. This explained to them the visions of him that they claimed to have had - it wasn't his ghost or his spirit, but his resurrected body! He was glorified and exalted to heaven, receiving the reward every martyr expects.

As a prophet, he wasn't just any prophet. He was a messianic prophet (remember I argued that they likely saw him as a Messiah during his lifetime). He must have been the Prophet-like-Moses, a real hero. Like Moses and the other Jewish heroes (including Enoch, Jacob, even Adam), he was highly exalted, given God's Name and enthroned.

This meant that Jesus had been transfigured into some kind of angelic body, since the body-resurrected was the body transformed into a star/angel. Again, there is one great angel that is most appealing to tag to him. The Angel of YHWH (=the Angel of the Lord). This was God's principal angel. He bore God's Name and Image, and operated as God's visible manifestation. As such he is either operating with God's power, voice and authority or he is indistinguishable from God. It is this early identification of Jesus with this angel and the Name of God that was invoked at baptism (Acts 2:38) and for healings (Acts 3:6, 16; 4:30; cf. 16:18; 19:13, 17). It was the Name that had the magic power to get the results they wanted, be it the drawing down of the spirit or healing.

The YHWH angel is SUPER IMPORTANT. Without understanding this angel and his early association with Jesus, it is impossible to explain early Christology in my opinion. This association with the Name Angel brought with it the title "Judge" too, created from a pesher of images from the scriptures (Zech 3:1-7; Isa 66:15-16; Mal 3:1-5). Keep in mind, where the Jewish scriptures reads "LORD", the Name YHWH is in the manuscript. YHWH and the angel YHWH were understood by many Jewish and Christian readers to be indistinguishable entities.

Also remember that Paul knows the tradition of the eschatological Judge as it is applied to Jesus, but he doesn't appear to know that Judge as the "Son of Man" (Rom 2:16; 14:10; 1 Cor 4:5; 11:32). This very old line of thinking is preserved in the Ps. Clem. materials associated with the Ebionites, the Jewish-Christians who have connections with Jerusalem. Jesus is appointed by God as the greatest of the archangels, the "god of princes, who is Judge of all" (Ps. Clem. Rec 2.42).


Michael said...

April, thanks for this. I find your treatment of the importance of the Name of the Lord with regard to the early Jesus movement quite sensible.

(I'm sure you were waiting eagerly for my approval.) : )

I do wonder if you might flesh out, in an upcoming post, the connection between Jesus and the Angel of the Lord, specifically where it shows up in our sources. I may just be me, but I had a hard time following that part of this post. Given the importance you place on it, I'd like to understand it thoroughly.



Frank McCoy said...

The great angel who has the Name is mentioned in Exodus 23:20-21 and Philo took it to be the Logos, stating in Exodus (Book II,13), "What is the meaning of the words, 'Behold, I am sending My angel before thy face, that he may guard thee on the way,...Give heed and listen and do not disobey. For he will not show consideration for thee, for My Name is upon him.'...Of necessity was the Logos appointed as Judge and Mediator, who is called 'angel.' Him He sets 'before the face,' there where the place of the eyes and the senses is, in order that by seeing and receiving sense(-impressions) it may follow the leadership of virtue, not unwillingly but willingly."
Compare James 1:21 (“Therefore, having put away all filthiness and remains of wickedness, in meekness receive the implanted Logos, being able to saving (dynamenos swsai) your souls.”) and James 4:12 (“One is the Lawgiver and Judge—the one being able to save (dynamenos swsai) and to destroy.").
The implication: In Jacobian thought, as in Philonic thought, the Logos is the Angel of Ex 23:20-21. As such, he can be implanted into humans and he is the Judge, the one being able to save (dynamenos swsai) and to destroy. Further, beyond that, he is the Lawgiver--another, but greater, Moses.
As Judge, the Logos is Lord. So, Philo states in On Dreams I (85), "It is of the Divine Logos that it is said, 'The sun went forth upon the earth, and Lot entered into Zoar, and the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire.'"
Compare James 5:8-9, “Also, you, establish your hearts because the coming of the Lord has drawn near. Do not murmur, brethren, against one another lest you be judged. Behold! The Judge before the doors has stood (esteken)."
Here, I suggest, the subject is the Logos: the Lord who is Judge. As he went forth upon the earth long ago, going door to door while judging the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, so the time has drawn near for him to return to judge us in a similar fashion.
In James 5:8-9, the Logos, as the Lord who is Judge, is Jesus. Richard Bauckham (“James and Jesus”, The Brother of Jesus, Edited by Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neuser, p. 134) notes that "the phrase ‘the coming (parousia) of the Lord’ which James has twice (5.7,8), was in standard early Christian usage as a reference to the future coming of Jesus (cf. 1 Thess 3.13, 4.15. 5.23. 2 Thess 2.1), whereas the word parousia is never used of God in early Christian usage.”
This brings us to James 2:1b, "Have the faith of our Lord, Jesus Christ--of glory."
To begin with, this is an affirmation that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the tent of David who had to fall in order to arise to save Israel (Amos 9:11)and who has the titles of Lord and Christ (see my comment in "Creating Jesus 9: Why did Jesus die."). But the final phrase tells us that he is more than just the Davidic Messiah. As Lord, he is also the Logos, the mighty angel of Ex 23:20-21--the one of glory.
So, since I think it likely that James is a genuine work of James the brother of Jesus, I suggest the Christology of James was that his brother had been the Logos, the one of glory, incarnate in the flesh as the Davidic Messiah, the tent of David. That is to say, I suggest, the Christology of James is reflected in John 1:14, "And the Logos became flesh and tented among us. And we gazed upon his glory as a one of a kind from the Father."

J. K. Gayle said...

Because of the LXX, doesn't this get fairly complicated? Even Jews today can hardly avoid referring to מלאך (mal'ak) as an "angel," which comes straight from ἄγγελος (angelos). The translators in Alexandria, well before Jesus, seem to have drawn heavily from the Homeric paradigm (resisting the Alexandrian / aristotelian paradigms - perhaps also the Egyptian polytheism of the kingdom of Ptolemy II -- this is one of Sylvie Honigman's theses in research on the LXX legend). And in Odyssey and Iliad alone there are some forty well-determined uses of the Greek word. After "Jesus," comes the epistle to "Hebrews" - which seems very conscious of at least the opening line of Odyssey in the opening line of the letter. What follows, of course, is this separation of this "Joshua" (now aka "Jesus") from the "angels."

"I want to keep reminding us that this tagging of Jesus with these various titles and scriptures isn't a linear process." Indeed! The intertextuality and the constructs of not only "the Angel of the Lord" but also of "angels" and of "Jesus" seem born out of resistances to various political and religious structures at different times - all, in part, facilitated by translations and transliterations.

Willis Barnstone and Amy-Jill Levine (on "Jesus") might tell us even more.

Mike Koke said...

Hey April, I continue to enjoy this series. It is interesting that the Angel of the Lord Christology continues to be preserved by Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. I just have a question. I noticed you describe the angel as God's "visible manifestation" and both seen as "indistinguishable entities" - do you think Jews still drew the distinction between the creator God & the Angel of YHWH (or Yahoel or Metatron) as a "created" being who was given the Name or is it more accurate to say that the Angel of YHWH is actually describing a hypostatis of God or God's own physical manifestation to people? If anyone can help me out on that question it would be appreciated.

Frank McCoy said...

Dear D.K. Doyle:
While there is a sense in which Jesus is separated from the angels in Hebrews, yet there is another sense in which he, too, is an angel.
Let us look at Heb 1:6, "And, again, when He brings the First-born into the world, he says, 'And let all the angels of God worship him.'"
This relates to the Confusion of Tongues (146), where Philo exhorts one to "take his place under God's First-born, the Logos, who holds the eldership among the angels, their ruler so to speak."
So, as the First-born (i.e., the Logos), there is a sense in which Jesus is separated from the angels in that he is their ruler and, so, is a superior being to be worshipped by them. However, by the same token, he is an angelic being himself--the eldest of the angelic beings.
Compare Mk 16:7, where the young man tells some women at the tomb of Jesus, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter..." With Jesus now dead, Peter assumes the leadership of his movement. As a result, even though Peter was and still remains one of Jesus' disciples, he, yet, has become separated from the disciples in that he is their ruler.
One final point, in the immediately preceding Heb 1:5, II Sam 7:14 is applied to Jesus. This identifies Jesus as being the Davidic Messiah--see 4Q174, "'[I will be] his father and he shall be my son' (2 Sam. vii, 14). He is the Branch of David who shall arise with the Interpreter of the Law [to rule] in Zion [at the end] of time."
So, it appears, in Hebrews 1:5-6, Jesus is both the Davidic Messiah and the Logos.

Steven Carr said...

'This very old line of thinking is preserved in the Ps. Clem.....'

Just how early are the Pseudo Clementine Recognitions?

Memra said...

One version of the LXX of Isaiah 9:6 calls the Messiah the "angel of great counsel."

And what did Paul mean by linking Jesus with an angel at Galatians 4:14: "You received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus."

And what about Memra theology of the Targums, wherein the Memra (Aramaic, "Word") is virtually synonymous with God, or a circumlocution for the mention of God?

Just questions, that perhaps can lead to some answers.

fengfk2008 said...


Leon said...

There are a couple of pieces of Jewish context that are being left out. I will just give one here.

The first experience of Jesus' resurrection was probably not as a unique, exalted event. The context was that his followers were expecting the end of time and the general resurrection to begin. Jesus was the first to be resurrected in what was expected to be a time of more resurrections to follow. Paul makes this make very clear in 1 Cor 15:12-20. He calls Jesus' resurrection the first fruits of the coming resurrection of the dead. In fact, Jesus' resurrection is proof to him that it is not vain to hope for the general resurrection.

Paul writes this a number of years after Jesus' death. So it took a while for the hope of the general resurrection to wane. But of course, eventually they had to accept that it was not the end of time yet. Then Jesus' resurrection is experienced as a special event unto itself. But it is not likely that this is where it started.

Not everyone back then believed in an afterlife and a future resurrection of the dead. For Paul and others, Jesus' resurrection was proof that these people were wrong. His resurrection was experienced as part of the hope of many Jews that the resurrection of all the dead, or only the righteous ones, would indeed take place.

Leon Zitzer

fengfk2008 said...


Richard James said...


I am convinced that the Pseudo Clementines are later than the latest book of the New Testament. So, no, I don't think they are that old. The Homilies and Recognitions are dependent on at least Matthew and probably also Luke.

Dr. DeConick has proposed that the Pseudo Clementines attest to some form of kernel Thomas, since all of the parallels between the Clemetines and Thomas are to be found in her reconstructed kernel Thomas and not in the accretions. However, when these parallels are analyzed in conjunction with the Synoptics it can be seen that all of the close parallels between kernel Thomas and the Clementines are also in one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. Furthermore, all of the kernel Thomas sayings without a close parallel in the Synoptics are also absent from the Clemetines.

This is precisely what I would expect, because the Clemetine Recognitions and Homilies as well as the Gospel of Thomas are dependent on the Synoptics (especially Matthew and Luke).

The agreements between the Clementines and kernel Thomas are always mere minor agreements (and always with a parallel in the Synoptics) and this is likely because the manuscripts of Matthew and Luke available in Syria at the time had these textual variants.

In short, the Gospel of Thomas and the Clementines are not earlier than the second half of the second century and are completely irrelevant for Historical Jesus studies.

Richard Godijn

Frank McCoy said...

Dear Richard Godijn:
Perhaps, rather than Th being dependent on Mt and Lk, Lk and Mt are dependent on Th.
Let us take the Matthean version of the Beelzebul Controversy in Mt 12:22-37. Here, Matthew appears to use Mk 3:22-29 as his primary source for Mt 12:22-31 and then Th 44-45 as his primary source for Mt 12:32-37.
Mt 12:31-32 is a unique Matthean doublet in that it is the *only* one in which the two doublets are adjacent to each other and the reason is that he found it useful to do this in order to make orderly transition from using Mk 3:22-29 as his primary source to using Th 44-45 as his primary source:
Line 1 Mt 12:31a Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men
Mk 3:28a Amen. I say to you that everything will be forgiven the sons of men, the sins and the blasphemies they may blaspheme.
Line 2 Mt 12:31b But blasphemy (against) the Spirit will not be forgiven
Mk 3:29a But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness into the (final) age
Mk 3:29b But is guilty of an eternal sin
Th 44.1 Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven
Line 3 Mt 12:32a And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man it will be forgiven him
Th 44.2 And whoever blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven
Line 4 Mt 12:32b But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven him
Th 44.3a But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven
Line 5 Mt 12:32c Neither in this age nor in the coming one
Th 44.3b Either on earth or in heaven
Luke, who used Mk, Mt and Th as sources, knew that Mt 12:22-37 has a Markan-based unit (i.e., Mt 12:22-31) and a Thomasine-based unit (i.e., Mt 12:32-37). He wrote his version of Mt 12:22-31 in Lk 11:14-23, but replaced Mt 12:32-37 with his version of Mt 12:43-45 in Lk 11:24-26--scattering Mt 12:32 to Lk 12:10 and Mt 12:33 to Lk 6:43-44 and Mt 12:34b-35 to Lk 6:45 and omitting Mt 12:34a and Mt 12:36-37.

Pastor Bob said...

Maybe there is a proto Thomas? :)

R.Eagle said...

Dr. D., might this information you've graciously provided have any relation, or more precisely, does it support the Mormon belief which says that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer? I've read that though Jesus was obviously, human, his spirit is that of Michael, the Archangel? Forgive me for my ignorance . . . I know I'm crossing boarders here, but thought I'd ask nonetheless.

Frank McCoy said...

Dear Pastor Bob:
There is no concrete evidence of a proto-Thomas. As far as that goes, there is no concrete evidence for Q either--and if Matthew and Luke used Th as a source, then there cannot have been a Q. Further, in many situations, the hypothesis that Matthew used Th as a source is superior to the hypothesis that Matthew used Q as a source.
For, example let us take Mt 12:32-35.
Why does Matthew, after writing Mt 12:32, write Mt 12:33 with its trees and fruit theme?
This action is inexplicable if Matthew had used Q as his source. In this case, Mt 12:32 is based on Q 12:10. But, there is nothing in it or Q 12:9 or Q 12:11 to invoke a trees and fruit theme and/or Q 6:43-44a in the mind of Matthew.
Conversely, this action is readily explicable if Matthew had been using Th as a source. In this case, Mt 12:32 is based on Th 44. While reading Th 44, he noticed that it is immediately preceded by a tree and its fruit theme in Th 43.3 (“But you have become like the Jews, for they (either) love the tree and hate its fruit (or) love the fruit and hate the tree.”). This inspired him to, after basing Mt 12:32 on Th 44, to next write a passage with a trees and fruit theme in Mt 12:33.
Next, while turning his attention to Th 45, and with a trees and fruit theme still fresh in his mind, he notices that Th 45 is immediately followed by a comment on John the Baptist in Th 46.1 (“Among those born of women, from Adam until John the Baptist, there is no one superior to John the Baptist”). This reminded him of a passage he had already written, i.e., Mt 3:7b-10, which he attributed to John the Baptist and which has a tree and its fruit theme. So, he decided to next, in Mt 12:34a, to follow the formula, in Mt 3:7b, of "Gennemata echidnwn! (Brood of vipers!)" followed by a rhetorical question.
Next, Matthew's eyes moved up from Th 46.1 to Th 45.3b-4(And says evil things--for out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil things.), so he decided to make it the basis for the immediately following Mt 12:34b (For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.).
Finally, Matthew's eyes moved up from Th 45.3b-4 to Th 45.3a, so he, finally, based Mt 12:35 on it.
The bottom line: As respects the question of what led Matthew to write Mt 12:32-35 the way he did, the explanation that he used Q as his primary source can't even get to first base. Conversely, the explanation that he used Th as his primary source enables us to fully explain this situation.
One final note, it cannot be, in this case, that Matthew used the postulated Kernel gospel as his primary source for Mt 12:32-35 because it lacks Th 43.3.

Michael said...

Frank, you wrote: "Matthew and Luke used Th as a source, then there cannot have been a Q."

I'm not sure I follow. Doesn't this assume that "Q" is a singular physical document, a hypothesis that, as far as I'm aware has fallen on hard times?

If you have time, a clarification would be appreciated.

Pastor Bob said...


Am I correct in thinking that concrete evidence would be a copy of the document on appropriately old paper in the appropriate script so that one could date the document to sometime before 100 AD?

Frank McCoy said...

Dear Michael and Pastor Bob:
If there was a Q, it probably was a singular physical document written in Greek--see John S. Kloppenborg-Verbin, The Excavation of Q, pp. 55-111. I have yet to see a satisfactory refutation of his argument.
By Q I mean the postulated text of the IQP: it is the only authorative version of Q.
If both Matthew and Luke used Th as a source, then any definition of Q you use would have to be amended to exclude any material in Mt and Lk with a parallel in Th. This would be a major re-definition for Q, because, as William Arnal states in the very beginning of "The Rhetoric of Marginality: Apocalypticism, Gnosticism, and Sayings Gospels" (HTR 88:4 (1995), 471-94), "Of a total of twelve parables or similitudes appearing in Q, fully half are paralled in the Coptic *Gospel of Thomas*. The two writings share approximately forty separate sayings." In essence, then, if both Matthew and Luke used Th as a source, this entails that Q, as currently reconstructed, could not possibly have ever existed.
By concrete evidence I mean a pre-modern text that can only be Q or a fragment of such a text that can only be a fragment of Q or a passage cited by a pre-modern person from a now-lost non-canonical text in which the cited passage can only be from Q. There is *zero* such evidence.

Michael said...

Thanks for the clarification, Frank. That was a helpful explanation.

Murf said...

April, Perhaps you should read Eta Linneman's testimony, it might do some good.

"I want to give you my testimony, beginning with a verse from God’s word, 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” This is very important. I was a theologian for decades but did not know about the inspiration of the Holy Scripture. I had to be born again to find this out."

pascal said...


This is fascinating and I look forward to reading more; one point which seems to follow inevitably from your comments is that it is meaningless to speak of 'Christians' in these early years. There were no 'Christians' as we understand the term; for that matter, there were no 'Jews' as we understand the term.

I do wonder whether describing Jesus as a rabbi may be a similar anachronism, though I probably should have said so somewhat before post 11...

Leon said...

It is understandable why many of us would say that "Christians" is an inappropriate term to use for the early Jesus movement. This was purely a Jewish movement. But it is quite wrong to say that they were not Jews and that Jesus was not a rabbi, or that these are also inappropriate terms. This is an attempt to use Christian theology to re-write Jewish history. There are many different forms of Christian theology. One form is to keep the Jewish Jesus unknowable and to impose someone's own beliefs about Jesus on this ancient history.

When there are 50 or 100 or more parallels between Jesus' words and rabbinic literature, and when Jesus is often called rabbi in all of the Gospels, "rabbi" is certainly an appropriate term. Being ordained has nothing to do it. There are figures in rabbinic lit who also were not ordained and their opinions are accepted by the rabbis. Christian concerns do not get to decide what makes "rabbi" appropriate. Only the evidence does. And Christians do not get to decide whether "Jew" is an appropriate term for these 1st century people. Only Jews do because it is our history and we get to decide about the continuity of our history. Christian theology is completely irrelevant in the study of this history.

Leon Zitzer

pascal said...


I think it would be helpful if you tried reading and responding to what I actually wrote, rather than embarking on what appears to be a classic straw man exercise.

That way you may even work out what it is you are trying to say...

Leon said...

You said that there were no Jews as we understand the term and that rabbi too may be an anachronism. Both your statements are wrong as I pointed out. Christian theology does not get to decide what 'Jew' and 'rabbi' mean.

Leon Zitzer

pearl said...


1. Where do you read pascal saying that his statements are coming from a Christian theological view? All I read is “as we understand the term.”
2. pascal was referring to “these early years.” Leon, can you provide literary evidence from no later than the early first century CE that shows how the term “Jew” was used as self-referencing during the time of Jesus?
3. Whether or not the term “rabbi” (during the time of Jesus) is anachronistic is debated. As example, here is the first page of an article, “The Title Rabbi in the Gospels is Anachronistic,” by S. Zeitlin, in The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Oct., 1968), pp. 158-160. Some discussion also can be found -- here.

Leon said...


Who is the "we" in as "we understand the term"? It is theology that is the main force behind changing the terminology in the study of Jewish history. If it were not for concerns about how Jesus and the early Jesus movement are to be represented, nobody would study the 1st century as they do now.

Every Christian scholar brings some theology with them when they write about the 1st century. Some bring a lot, some bring a little. But everybody brings some bias into this. Nobody who has an interest in Jesus brings pure objectivity into this. Everyone manipulates the evidence to satisfy what they want to say about Jesus. And one of the ulterior motives operating here is the desire to make Jesus less Jewish by calling him Galilean and artificially distinguishing him from the Judeans. Then scholars will say the Judeans killed him and claim this is not anti-Jewish because they are not accusing Jews.

As for your evidence, it has long been my experience that no one on the Internet really cares about the evidence. Perhaps you are an exception. But most just want endless theological debate. Be it noted that the Greek word back then was Ioudaios, which many claim should be translated as Judean. The Jews themselves did not use this word about themselves except when they were communicating with gentiles or pagans. The word of self-designation that Jews used was various cognates with the word Israel, such as children of Israel, people of Israel, House of Israel. John Elliott has a well-known article on this in "Journal for rhe Study of the Historical Jesus", July 2007, 119-54.

He would call them Israelites, but that term gets used for the people in the Bible and would erase the fact that this was an on-going, developing culture which was different from biblical culture. The proper term today for this constantly developing people and culture is Jewish, not Israelite. The Jewish people get to decide what they want to call their ancestors, not Christian scholars.

As for Ioudaios, it was used much like Jew is today and Josephus used it often to apply to the people of a culture, not of a territory. Daniel Schwarz argued this in his article in a book edited by Frey, Jörg et al, "Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World" (2007). He gives 10 reasons why "Jew" is a better translation of Ioudaios than "Judean". I have some additional reasons, but as I said, I have learned my lesson long ago that reason and evidence count for little on the Internet when preconceived ideas about Jesus are at stake.

There is a lot of rewriting of Jewish history going on. The first principle is that a people themselves get to decide how their history should be discussed. I think theology is the main reason for rewriting this history.

As for rabbi, there is powerful evidence that rabbi is certainly not an anachronism for the 1st century. First, Jesus is often called rabbi and he warns his followers not to be entranced by this title or any title. Second, almost everything Jesus says has its parallel in rabbinic literature. That is powerful evidence that rabbi is appropriate because the same ideas were being taught. When you have evidence like this, you would need exceptionally powerful evidence, not mild evidence or mere hints, to overturn this. I don't think anyone has it. Scholars make this argument because they think rabbi is too small a title for Jesus and they would like to get rid of it. Even Jewish scholars sometimes fall victim to this theology. I have not read the article you mentioned above, but I hope to get to it one day. If I get to read those links you provided soon, I will post again.

Leon Zitzer

Leon said...


I did have a chance to read those links and there is no powerful evidence presented there to contradict the basic evidence I have pointed to.

We know that before the 1st century CE, rabbi was not even a popular title let alone an ordained position. We know Hillel, Shammai, Shimon ben Shetach and others who lived before the 1st century were not called rabbi (Hillel died very early in the 1st century).

The question is what was happening in the 1st century itself. The Gospel evidence is that rabbi was definitely used as a popular and respected title. One of those articles you mentioned referred to Gamaliel. I had almost forgotten about him. I am pretty sure he is the same Gamaliel found in Acts 5. As that article noted, he was given the title Rabban, which is slightly higher than rabbi. (I also believe, but am not 100% sure, that rabban is a combination of rabbi and abba, another title which Jesus also refers to when he talks about not seeking to be called rabbi. And we have at least two 1st century figures named in the Talmud who had the title Abba and one burial stone from that time with the title Abba on it.) So Gamaliel is another 1st century figure who was honored with a similar title.

Zeitlin mentions Josephus. He admits that Josephus often used the (Greek) term teacher. We don't know if that was Josephus' way of translating rabbi. It could well be. Remember that Mark uses rabbi for Jesus but also often teacher. So rabbi could get translated into Greek as teacher.

I see no powerful evidence here to contradict the evidence from the 1st century Gospels that rabbi was definitely in use. And since Jesus is preaching the exact same ideas, then he would quite naturally be one of the first to be given the title rabbi.

Leon Zitzer

pascal said...


I suggest you reconsider the content of your suggestion that others are guilty of preconceptions; looking in the mirror would be a good place to start.

Your expressed conviction that only Christian theologians are interested in the first century suggests that you are grossly ignorant of any first century history outside a very limited area. For example, in 60CE two tribes, the Iceni and the Trinovantes, rose in revolt against the Roman occupying forces, resulting in the deaths of many thousands of people and the total destruction of the three cities built by the Romans, Colchester, London and Verulamium, in what is now called England.

England, of course, did not exist in the first century, irrespective of the views of people now living in England.

It is accepted by all historians with any knowledge of the period that the revolt sparked by the abuse of those native populations by the Romans bears little or no resemblance to the 'Jewish' revolt 6 years later, since Rome had not occupied or colonised Jewish Palestine, nor had it built any cities in Jewish Palestine.

You are clearly wholly ignorant of this, which is unfortunate given your pontifications about history, how it should be practised, and the mindsets of everyone using the Internet apart from you.

Implausible as it may seem to you, the Boudican Revolt in the first century had nothing to do with Jesus and/or Judaism, and, whilst Boudica probably did have captives crucified, there was no religious content whatsoever in that method of execution; it was a habit she picked up from the Romans.

And yet even though it has nothing to do with Jesus and/or Judaism, archaeologists and historians continue to enquire into the Revolt, and people digging holes for other reasons in the three Roman cities still come across the charred layer of devastation. But no scholar ever accuses the Romans of being anti-Icenic, and no scholar ever thinks that claiming that the Romans were anti-Icenic would constitute a rational statement about the Boudican Revolt.

You are, of course, perfectly entitled to carry on being irrational.

pearl said...

Oh my, such excitement since I’ve been gone…

Leon, thank you for your response.

Regarding my first point, you say, “Who is the 'we' in as 'we understand the term'?”

I say, I don’t know. Perhaps we should ask pascal for clarification as to his/her intended meaning before making assumptions? I do believe pascal already has addressed the issue of preconceptions.

As to my second item, you mention at one point, “The Jewish people get to decide what they want to call their ancestors, not Christian scholars.”

I say, that wasn’t my point, regardless of your opinion. My question was whether and how those people during the time of Jesus used the term “Jew” for self-reference. One argument you propose is that technically there is a possibility that “Jew” could be a better translation for loudaois than “Judean”.

Finally, you respond in part to my point three, “As for rabbi, there is powerful evidence that rabbi is certainly not an anachronism for the 1st century.”

Perhaps so, but I was not referring to the entire first century. I tried to specify “during the time of Jesus” only through the first part of the century. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. In other words, this period did not include later gospel stories and their mention of “rabbi”. I believe that was the point of the first article in which S. Zeitlin said, “However one fact remains that during the Second Commonwealth the term Rabbi was not used.” To my understanding, the Second Commonwealth extended to approximately 70 CE, which included the time of Jesus, but not the later Gospels about Jesus’ life.

If I have misunderstood any of your points, Leon, please let me know.

There are likely more resources that explore this topic, and it does appear that there is a debate about whether the figure of Jesus as rabbi is an anachronism. In bringing up this subject for critical consideration, pascal was well within the parameters of this particular discussion, IMHO.

I welcome any further edifying contributions from pascal and others, should they care to comment.

Geoff Hudson said...

Y'all want to keep Jesus. He never lived. His real name was Judas, and his sons were James and Simon.

pearl said...

Geoff, my understanding is that this discussion does not revolve around the issue of the historicity of Jesus.

Continuing discussion appears to show that there were stories and imagery developed around either an actual man or a mythological man.

And this developed figure has been named “Jesus”, regardless of the question of his historical authenticity or proper name designation.

Geoff Hudson said...

Y'all assume that he existed.

pearl said...

Gosh, what is it with assumptions lately?

Geoff, y'all are making a big assumption. I imagine there are many here who very well might assume his existence.

But I can only speak for myself. Personally, I don't pretend to know one way or another, and quite frankly, whether or not he existed as a human being doesn't matter to me. And, no, you may not assume what my belief system is.

I do find the various interpretations and imagery surrounding this figure of Jesus quite interesting, however. I thank Dr. DeConick for providing a forum that discusses and investigates not only Biblical gospels, but also the "forbidden" ones.

Leon said...


I would have thought it was clear that when I referred to study of the 1st century, I meant 1st century history in ancient Israel. I was not referring to 1st century history all over the world. Regarding 1st century history of Jewish culture, theology has long played the dominant role. I'm not stuck on that word. You could also say a preconceived worldview or any other such thing. Theology or worldview still operates today. Most NT scholars or historical Jesus scholars sum up Jewish culture of the 1st century as being about Temple, rituals, and purity concerns (sometimes they throw in other things, such as circumcision, dietary rules, territory, etc.). They pick out the things that make ancient Judaisn look superficial or obsessed with externals. This is quite wrong. This is an imposition of a Christian theological understanding on Jewish culture in order to make Jesus or his followers look more spiritual.

A better description of ancient Jewish culture is that it was concerned with constitutionalism, due process, justice, peace. That is closer to the essence of 1st century Judaism, not Temples, rituals, purity concerns. When Elaine Pagels writes that ancient Jewish identity was defined by its ritual precepts (The Origin of Satan, 85), that is so wrong. And Pagels is a great scholar on subjects other than Jewish identity. If she makes a mistake like this, you can bet it is a really big problem in scholarship as a whole.

Show me any Christian scholars who talk about constitutionalism, due process, justice, etc. as the defining features of 1st century Jewish culure and reject the idea of Temple, rituals, purity as the correct description and I will gladly apologize to those scholars. But I am pretty sure that better than 90% of these scholars will fail this test. (E.P. Sanders is one partial exception to this and does a little better job.)

So again, what is Jewish is up to objective scholars, which can be anyone who has a strong love and sympathy for this culture. This can include Christian scholars, but not if they bring Christian concerns into Jewish history. R. Travers Herford was perhaps the last great Christian scholar who could study Jewish culture on its own terms without reference to Christian ideas.

Leon Zitzer

Leon said...


As I noted 1st century Jews, referred to themselves as children of Israel, etc. If any change were made, then John Elliott is right that Israelite would be better. But the problem is that Israelite refers to the people in the Bible. This was a developing culture. So calling the ones in the 1st century Israelites would create confusion.

Judean was how the Romans (and other pagans) referred to these people. There is absolutely no reason why Roman imperialism should determine what these people should be called. As Elliott noted in his article, ancient Jews never referred to themselves as Judeans (except when communicating with pagans). So Judean would be completely unacceptable. Jew or Jewish is still the best word because it best captures that people with an on-going culture. And Jews do get to say something about their own history, their own connection with the past, and to stress the continuity of their past experiences. Introducing other terms would make the Jews a discontinuous people. No scholar, Jewish or Christian, has a right to do that. No right whatsoever,

Above in my response to Pascal, I gave an example of how scholars today still try to impose a Christian outlook on this history.

As for Rabbi, well ... The abundant rabbinic ideas in the Gospels and calling Jesus a rabbi very often are very powerful evidence of what was the situation during Jesus' life. To his followers, Jesus was mainly the Messiah. It seems difficult to explain why they would call him rabbi unless that had really been the case. To get around powerful evidence like this, you would need extremely strong evidence, not speculation. What does Zeitlin offer on that page? That Josephus does not use the term rabbi. That is very weak and involves a lot of speculation. Josephus does not mention a lot of things. I don't think he mentions synagogues or miqvehs (though I could be wrong about this). But we know these things existed before 70 CE. And since Josephus does use the Greek word for teacher, he could well have been translating rabbi into Greek.

My point is that we only have weak or highly speculative evidence that rabbi is an anachronism before 70 CE. After 70 CE, it became an ordained position, but it likely had a previous development as a popular title for those who earned it. The Gospels give us evidence for that. My impression is that those scholars who have denied this were concerned that seeing Jesus as a rabbi would somehow diminish him.

Anyway, the really strong evidence here is that the Gospels are filled with rabbinic teachings. Incredibly filled with them. That tells us a lot.

Leon Zitzer

pearl said...

Leon, Dr. DeConick is continuing discussion elsewhere, so I don’t want to belabor this topic, other than to make a couple ending comments.

You say, “What does Zeitlin offer on that page? That Josephus does not use the term rabbi. That is very weak and involves a lot of speculation.”

That was not all that was written during the time of Jesus. S. Zeitlin states, “We have substantial literature of that period – the writings of Josephus, the Apochryphal literature, Philo, the early tannaitic literature before the destruction of the Temple. In none of this literature does the word “Rabbi” occur. Josephus mentions sophists, teachers, Ben Sira refers to grammateis, soferim.”

This might not be conclusive evidence, but it does at least bring into question what would be an appropriate term for that particular period.

Terminology and categories are not always exact and are devised for many reasons. Review of the post in which Dr. DeConick laid out the ground rules for this particular thread of inquiry shows that this investigation attempts to be as objective as possible, taking into account recognition of subjective factors and source material that was not neutral.

I find this to be a reasonable approach.

Leon said...

Objectivity is not only reasonable, it is the best approach, if you are really being objective and not covering up a subjective agenda. Some of Dr. DeConick's work is objective, some of it is not. In her more recent post (#12 in this series), I pointed out that it is not objective to take the idea of the Messiah out of its Jewish context. Also, to use the term "theology" with tespect to the ancient rabbis is not objective because it is imposing later Christian ideas on the rabbis. The rabbis were not theologians.

As for "rabbi", it is a general rule in any historical study that when a term or concept makes its first official appearance in history, it must have been in use and development before that time. It is extremely difficult to believe that "rabbi" first burst upon the scene after 70 CE. That is very unlikely. No one has a good argument to counter that.

The words Josephus or any other writer of that time used are not conclusive. As I already said, Josephus does not talk about a lot of things that we know existed. You would also have to argue that when Josephus uses the word for teacher, he was not translating rabbi into Greek with that word for teacher. That is a highly speculative argument. And speculative arguments cannot overcome the solid evidence we have in the Gospels on this point.

When people play terminology or verbal games and indulge in speculation to get around very strong evidence, that is a good sign that something very subjective is going on. There is a hidden agenda, a worldview, which makes them deny the obvious. In this case, it is likely that these people are very bothered that Jesus was a rabbi and called such. They would like to get rid of this evidence. But that is not objective scholarship and that is what Pascal was doing. The plentiful rabbinic teachings in the Gospels is enough evidence alone as to how rabbinic Jesus was.

Scholars in other fields generally have a lot of love for their subject, whether they are chemists or biologists or American historians or anything else. When most NT scholars study Jewish history (thankfully not all of them), they show no love for their subject and hence constantly misstate what it was about. No one can get around the solid evidence that Jesus was a rabbi of his time. The arguments for that are lacking in any real objectivity.

Leon Zitzer

pascal said...

Leon said:

'No one can get around the solid evidence that Jesus was a rabbi of his time.'

The difficulty is that you have adduced no evidence whatsoever, solid or otherwise, to support that statement. The most you can manage is the claim that since there were rabbis in later periods there must have been rabbis in earlier periods, and therefore Jesus must have been one of them; this is self-evident nonsense.

And since you presumably realise it is self-evident nonsense you fall back on claiming that there was and is a hidden agenda devoted to destroying the 'solid' evidence which would otherwise support your claim.

Which is unfortunate if you wish me or any other of your fellow posters to take your comments seriously, since it suggests that you have no interest in reasoned discourse.

Instead you make unsupported assertions, and when those assertions are challenged you claim that anyone challenging you is prompted by Christian religious zeal and/or antisemitism.

This is not a good way to encourage people to consider the points you are trying to make...

Leon said...

It is difficult to know how to respond to the absurdities of Pasdcal's comments. Jesus is called rabbi quite often in the Gospels (in all four, even in John, which has the most theological agenda of making Jesus out to be more than a rabbi). And even more important than this, Jesus fills the Gospels with rabbinic teachings. They are in virtually every word he says. Yet Pascal calls all this no evidence. How does one answer something so nonsensical?

There is a deep bias in much Christian scholarship on ancient Jewish history. Pascal seems to express some of it himself. I never used the word "antisemitism" because it is a word I do not like. But Pascal feels free to throw it around. If anyone cares at all about what it means for a Christian scholar to respect and love ancient Judaism, I would suggest reading R. Travers Herford. There has been hardly anyone like him since. But David Bivin is a current Christian writer who comes close.

And I find it shocking that Pascal would erase so much in evidence in the Gospels that tells us how rabbinic Jesus was and then by implication call this kind of erasing of evidence rational discourse. Pascal is unfortunately one of those people who indulges in verbal games and thinks this is a rational way to replace the evidence.

Leon Zitzer