Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Creating Jesus 13: The Jerusalem Paradigm

We now have all the pieces of the earliest christological musings in place, and we can talk about the first paradigm as it was developed by the first Christian Jews in Jerusalem. All that has gone on before in the twelve previous posts should not be taken to be linear development - i.e. first this happened, then that happened. Rather these strands of tradition came together in complexes that brought with them a number of associations and connections that become attached to Jesus simply because they were part of the complex.

There is a chicken and egg effect here. The first Christian Jews turn to these Jewish tradition complexes to understand Jesus' death, explain the visions they said they were having of the afterlife Jesus, and to reflect upon and remember his life. Then these complexes haul along associations that then serve to reinterpret who Jesus was, and so the reframing of a Jewish rabbi with messianic leanings as the Mosaic messianic Prophet, the Righteous One, the resurrected martyr, the exalted Angel YHWH-KAVOD who can intercede on our behalf formed in the teachings of the foundational movement.

What happens, as far as I can tell, is that the christology which forms gets tied to the soteriological teachings of the group. They go hand in hand. In the case of the Jerusalem paradigm, what you end up with is the christological teaching that Jesus was a complete human being born to human parents. Mary and Joseph are understood to be his biological parents (just as Matthew's and Luke's genealogies relate and the Ebionites later taught). At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended, and it took up residence in him, possessing him as it did all the prophets of old. As God's Prophet, Jesus called people to repentance, taught people how to interpret correctly and follow the Laws so that they could live righteously and be prepared for the coming of God's judgment. Ultimately he was rejected. He suffered a terrible death as was foretold in the scripture, a death that atoned for the past sins of Israel. The Holy Spirit left him at his death. But because he was a righteous man and faithful to God, God rewarded him with resurrection from the dead, transforming him into an angelic body and exalting him to God's right hand as the principal YHWH Angel, vested with the powerful Name and enthroned. In this capacity, he will return to judge the living and the dead.

As a result of this teaching, the doctrine of the second coming was born, as well as the divinization of Jesus. Jesus was not divine during his lifetime, any more than any other prophet. He was a human being possessed by the Holy Spirit, exalted to divinity after his death.

In the next post, I will take up how this christology affected the group's soteriology and ritual practice. Then on to Antioch!

42 comments:

Jon said...

Title of this post sounds like a Big Bang Thoery episode.

(That's a good thing.)

Leon said...

Again, I have to point out that making Jesus divine did not come from a tendency in Judaism. Many Jewish figures died very special deaths at the hand of God and had a special status after death (notably, Elijah and Moses, but there were others too), and none of them became divine in Jewish tradition. None of them got confused with God, no matter how exalted they were regarded.

Jesus' divinization was more likely influenced by the pagans who joined the movement. Paul never regards Jesus as divine. A highly special Messiah, yes, but not divine. The big change that Paul and others introduced was to make the Messiah more important than the Constitution or Torah. It is possible that there could have been a tendency like this among some ancient Jews, but that is still not making Jesus divine and it goes against the main Jewish tradition which was to require everyone, no matter how exalted (even Moses), to serve the Constitution. Pharisees and rabbis fought for reason as much as Socrates did, and taught that the Constitution and rational arguments based on it were our best protection against arbitrary rule. Even a Messiah would have to recognize this or he would not be a true Messiah. Moses learns this lesson from God in rabbinic tradition.

To omit this most important aspect of Jewish culture from the discussion is to rip the Messiah out of its Jewish context and to impose a certain amount of Christian theology on ancient Jewish culture.

Leon Zitzer

Geoff Hudson said...

The early traditions regarding Nero, such as: his mother Agrippina murdering Claudius by poisoning because she was fearful of Britannicus Claudius' son seizing the government when he grew up, Nero poisoning Britannicus, Nero putting his own mother to death, Nero killing his first wife Octavia daughter of Claudius, and Claudius killing his wife Messalina out of jealousy, had their origin in the writings attributed to Josephus. (Ant 20.8.1,2). Other later Roman historians simply cited this material. They were Flavian creations, first written in the writings attributed to Josephus to shame the Claudian family.

So, it didn't take too much for these folk to invent Jesus as the Saviour, who could walk on water, and came out of Galilee, and could do miracles, just like a certain Vespasian. This was certainly a linear development.

Geoff Hudson said...

The early traditions regarding Nero, such as: his mother Agrippina murdering Claudius by poisoning because she was fearful of Britannicus Claudius' son seizing the government when he grew up, Nero poisoning Britannicus, Nero putting his own mother to death, Nero killing his first wife Octavia daughter of Claudius, and Claudius killing his wife Messalina out of jealousy, had their origin in the writings attributed to Josephus. (Ant 20.8.1,2). Other later Roman historians simply cited this material. They were Flavian creations, first written in the writings attributed to Josephus to shame the Claudian family.

So, it didn't take too much for these folk to invent Jesus as the Saviour, who could walk on water, and came out of Galilee, and could do miracles, just like a certain Vespasian. This was certainly a linear development.

Steven Carr said...

'As God's Prophet, Jesus called people to repentance, taught people how to interpret correctly and follow the Laws so that they could live righteously and be prepared for the coming of God's judgment.'

Where is any of that in the earliest Christian sources, ie Paul's letters, or in Hebrews, James, 1 Clement, Jude, 1 Peter etc?

Geoff Hudson said...

If you want to be really righteous, then just make sure that you submit yourself "to the governing authorities, for their is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has institituted, and those who do so bring judgement on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority. Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Rom 13:1-4.

I can just imagine Vespasian dictating the lines himself. Just about every line is a threat. Is that what Vespasian thought of himself? - "established by God", he was "God's servant", a ruler who holds "no terror for those who do right", he was God's "agent of wrath". And closer to the truth: "This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants." Rom. 13:6Vespasian was about money, by hook or by crook.

Memra said...

My long reading of first-century Judaisms and earliest Christianity leads me to agree with Leon Zitzer.

It may be a minority opinion among New Testament scholars, but my reading of the New Testament details a clear subordination of Jesus to God (not just "the Father," but God, period), with "divinity" arising only from his association with God as filius dei. Origen made basically the same point in his "Commentary on the Gospel of John."

pascal said...

The process by which Octavian established his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, and then himself, as a, if not the, god may have also had some influence on the readiness to believe that a Jewish man had become a, if not the, god...

Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...

No, what Dr. DeConick is saying is something different. She's saying that Judaism was actually different at the time that Jesus was living than as defined later by the Rabbis. She's saying that there were trends in Judaism that were quasi-polytheistic, such as the Angel of YHWH scriptures and traditions. Archaeology from this period bears out such claims, including miniature sculptures of both YHWH and a female consort for Him, in spite of our modern belief that a strict monontheism would have proscribed such things. And then there's the angelology, invocation of angels, practices and beliefs that apparently were much more common in the time of Jesus than we have been taught to acknowledge.

Dr. DeConick's point is: of course, if we read the rabbis and consult Jewish traditions in the period after the destruction of the second Temple, you will only discover there a strict monotheism that seems completely incompatible with the quasi-polytheistic beliefs and practices described above, for the very simple and obvious reason that the rabbis edited, selected, and organized their commentaries precisely to remove such polytheistic ideas and materials and thereby "monotheize" Jewish theology, no doubt in response to polytheistic beliefs that they considered aberrant, possibly including even Christian teaching.

Now, I'll admit that this perspective is new to me, and that once I thought as do Leon and other such persons here. But I'm coming around to Dr. DeConick's way of thinking.

She's making a careful and reasonable argument that the divinization of Jesus occurred early in the Jesus movement (within the first few decades after the crucifixion); I think there is good evidence to support that idea. For example, the most potent of the divine or semi-divine tags applied to Jesus is Son of Man, which is straight out of the Old Testament (Daniel; Ezekiel). As Son of Man in the gospels, Jesus is depicted as glorified and seated at the right hand of God, and appointed to rule over all nations, languages, and peoples. As such, Jesus is given a position and authority that exceeds previous figures, such as Moses and Elijah. The idea of Jesus as the Son of Man is already well-formed and elaborated in the canonical gospels by time of 65-90 AD., and that's pretty early.

But Dr. DeConick's research argues that a careful reading of the Thomas gospel, which is even earlier than the canonical gospels, reveals that the Thomasine community conceptualized Jesus divine empowerment through the identification of Jesus with the YHWH angel (See the commentary in her Thomas book, especially the Thomasine variation on the "Who Do Men Say That I Am?" saying in the canonical gospels. In Thomas, the answer is implicit, but undeniable. The answer of the Thomas gospel to the question of "Who do men say that I am?" is the unspeakable divine name (YHWH).

I know that it seems crazy to us today that Jews could believe and write such a thing, but believe it and write it they did. The answer why is still something of a mystery to me; it must have been rooted in a powerful experience of the person and ministry of Jesus, an experience that crystallized in the minds of his followers a variety of connected beliefs and messianic expectations.

Jim Deardorff said...

Liam,

DeConick certainly seems correct, that "the divinization of Jesus occurred early in the Jesus movement (within the first few decades after the crucifixion)," or early in the post-crucifixion era.

However, the "Son of man" designation for Jesus seems not to have been applied to him until the first Gospel came out. This could well have been late, like 120 CE, as the phrase is not applied to "Jesus" by Paul, 1 Clement or Ignatius.

Concerning the Thomas gospel, remember that there's a lot of argumentation favoring a post-Gospel date for it, too, including some telling input from Mark Goodacre. In your discussion of the Thomasine variation, for example, it seems to me that altering "son of God" to "YHWH" suggests a post-Gospel upgrading.

Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...

Dear Jim,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I've appreciated your remarks in earlier posts. I think your caveats about dating Thomas and the gospels are important reminders. Over the years, I have tended to favor the earlier datings for the canonical gospels (we do have Son of Man terminology in Mark, do we not? 70-80 A.D.?) but I have to concede that the canonical gospels contain what could be called "early material" that has been subjected to significant redacting/reshaping along theological/Christological lines. And I think Dr. DeConick does argue that the Thomas gospel underwent discernible redactions as the concerns of its community evolved.

Whether early (65-90 AD) or later 120-150AD) though, (and I know you are not debating me on this point, and you and I seem to be in agreement on this point), the theology/Christology either of Jesus as Son of Man or as the YHWH Angel seem to have been developed first by Jewish believers and followers of Jesus and to have been conceived wholly from within a Jewish context/OT prophecies and traditions, not as some have argued as a later pagan-influenced development.

Geoff Hudson said...

I am not saying that there wasn't a prophet, but his name wasn't Jesus. His name was Judas, with sons James and Simon who were supposedly crucified by Tiberias Alexander, Ant. 20.5.2. Judas was demonized by Flavian editors.

You know all those procurators. Well they were false, including Tiberias Alexander. And you know the weird story about Agrippa I's death (Ant. 19.8.2). Well that was false too. There was only ever one king Agrippa, Agrippa I. He ruled throughout the period of the multiple so-called procurators. There was no young Agrippa II (he is not mentioned in the Jewish literature). Agrippa I was a supporter of the prophets, probably including Judas.

There is a completely different story.

pascal said...

Geoff Hudson said:

'There is a completely different story.'

There are many completely different stories, but your observations appear to be an attempt to completely derail April's project without even the saving grace of being amusing.

Incidentally, no Flavian Conspiracy Theory is complete without the claim that the Boudican Revolt didn't happen either...

Geoff Hudson said...

Pascal, the fact is, that for much of the history of the period we only have the say so of the writings attributed to Josephus, as a primary source. Do you really believe the fanciful account of how Agrippa I died? He was written out. There was no Agrippa II in Jewish literature. Why do you think the Flavians wanted to portray a long deteriorating, anti-Roman situation in Judea caused by incompetant Roman procurators upsetting the Jews, before the time of the so-called revolt? It wouldn't have anything to do with shaming the Claudian family, including Nero would it? Vespasian needed an excuse to ransack the temple for its treasure, and to declare a triumph. There was no war in Galilee. The coins of the so-called revolt, and the land sale documents testify that for four or five years, Judea was at peace.

And incidentally, Masada was the main Roman battle camp at the start of a very short intervention by Nero to get rid of the priests.

pascal said...

Geoff said:

'The fact is...'

It would help if you gave some thought to what consitutes a 'fact'...

Geoff Hudson said...

There are many 'facts' in the writings attributed to Josephus that are the vain imaginings of the Roman Flavian editors. And Vespasian was well qualified to make them up. He arranged a triumph for Claudius after the latter had made a short trip to Brittain. About his historians, the historian B W Jones wrote: "once again, the Flavian historians on whom Suetonius relied strained the truth to and beyond its limits." (page 35 of Suetonius' Vespasian).

Jim Deardorff said...

Hi Liam,
You asked, "(we do have Son of Man terminology in Mark, do we not? 70-80 A.D.?)"

With the late Gospel-dating hypothesis, and assumed priority of Semitic Matthew, the writer of Matthew introduced it for Jesus around 120 CE, and the writer of Mark utilized it some, in copying from Matthew.

I prefer the late dating because the very few definite quotes from Matthew that are in 1 Clement and Ignatius look like later additions. And it allows that the writer of Matthew could have utilized bits of Ignatius's epistles. Otherwise, there's no good explanation why the definite quotes from Matthew didn't start appearing until around 125 CE, and why no mention of Gospel names occurred until 172 CE, except for what Papias said as conveyed or edited by Eusebius.

Summaries of this are written up in the online Paradoseis journal, papers #3 and #6.

Liam Madden said...

Jim,

Enjoyed perusing your article #3. Reading Paula Fredriksen's article on Mark and John (a pdf that used to be found on her website) first got me thinking in a way that dislodged Markan priority. It was a shift for me after being trained in the usual fashion--Mark first, Matthew and Luke after, and then John--you know the drill.

I found it curious, however, that you referenced a source that argued that Jesus had lived in India. It seemed unlikely to me that you would hold such an opinion.

Liam Madden said...
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Jim Deardorff said...

Liam,

Well, like I've mentioned before in a comment on this blog, there's a lot of evidence that after he survived the crucifixion, stayed incognito a couple years in Damascus then traveled through Anatolia, he and his small party caravanned east to northern India and Srinagar, where he lived a long life. It explains his post-crucifixion appearances and Saul's conversion (Acts 9). I've collected the main evidence at this web page.

Leon said...

I have to disagree with Liam and Jim. And I strongly object to the rewriting of ancient Jewish history to suit modern theological purposes. I even object to imposing a concept like monotheism on the ancient rabbis and Pharisees. I see no attempt here to appreciate ancient Jewish culture on its own terms without subjecting it to modern battles.

It is quite common these days for scholars to erase the accomplishments of the early Pharisees and rabbis by claiming that later rabbinic tradition re-wrote everything to suit some orthodox agenda. This overlooks the extremely rich variety of the material preserved by the rabbis, not all of it serving the orthodox. This included a lot of information we would call superstition. Every religion has it. Magic, angels, incantations, etc. But there is so much more in rabbinic literature. The Pharisees and rabbis helped to create something important in Judaism. I do not mean orthodox practice. I mean they talked about God in a different way.

Martin Buber once pointed out the difference between magic and genuine religion. Magic seeks power, to manipulate some higher being to get results. Genuine religion is about having a dialogue with God and, of course, this means finding out who God is, what are his characteristics, what does he really want. You will find both magic and religion in rabbinic literature. But the rabbis were not creating monotheism. That is a modern idea used to create misunderstanding about the rabbis. They were really creating a way of learning about God and what he wants.

There are incredible stories about this. That is what their teaching is about. And it includes things like reason, due process, justice, peace, fighting for constitutional government against arbitrary human power. Jesus taught these things too. And Jewish tradition may have exalted some figures along the way, but it did not elevate them to the status of God.

Is it possible that some obscure, fringe group in Judaism might occasionally have made more of someone like Moses and Elijah? I suppose it is possible, but why would you call that a tendency in Judaism, when the oldest traditions in Judaism are very clear about not divinizing any human being? What some people like Liam are doing is playing around with dates and declaring anything they do not like to be from a later date. There is nothing in the Synoptics to confuse Jesus with God. And Paul does not do it either. So do you want to declare that Paul is late and some sentence in Thomas is older because you like what it says?

Some pagans had beliefs about a man-god. It would seem an obvious influence. Why would anyone easily dismiss this? But re-writing ancient rabbinic literature (e.g., erasing so much in it) is not the way to understand a culture. Monotheism and some of the other ideas bandied about here are outsider notions imposed on a culture to distort it. Anyone who does this cannot claim to understand ancient Judaism and is radically altering its own internal integrity.

Leon Zitzer

Liam Madden said...
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Liam Madden said...

Ouch, Leon, I think you think we don't appreciate your heritage and erudition, and we do. If you're open to the fact that rabbinic literature has magic, angels, etc., then I'm not quite sure why you would object to Dr. DeConick's pointing out of such beliefs being applied to the interpretation of Jesus life, death, and aferlife by his followers. As I mentioned in my earlier post, to call Jesus "Son of Man" or to believe he was the Angel of the LORD are both very Jewish ways of framing the idea of Jesus exaltation. No one's disagreeing with you; we/I understand that though born within the diversity of Judaism, the exaltation of Jesus as "Son of Man" or Angel of the LORD were views that went outside the norms of Judaism, even in Jesus day; I think the gospels certainly concede that many Jews of Jesus day, most likely, the majority in fact, did not accept the tendency of Jesus followers to exalt him, either during his life or after his death. So, I don't think anyone is arguing with you. And I'm not quite sure what it is or why you object to Dr. DeConick's thesis and its corollaries.

Leon said...

"Son of Man" and "Angel of the Lord" are both expressions which have more than one meaning, especially "son of Man". Both expressions are varied and at times vague enough that it would be difficult to build a solid case for anything on them. "Son of man" can mean a human being and it can also mean "I". It is a big step to interpret all the "son of man" sayings in one way.

And I would still repeat this point: No matter what you might think, stories about angels do not mean that angels are divine beings. They are not on the same level as God. Nor is an exalted figure like "son of Man", whatever that might be (because there is still a lot of speculation about what the term really meant even in places where we think it does refer to someone special).

Superstition and praying to angels, fascinating as it all is to many people, is in ancient Jewish belief not the same thing as God. What the rabbis and Pharisees did was to explore the mystery of God and the mystery of being human. What are we called upon to do while we are here on this earth? This is the deepest and the most poetic part of Judaism, which Jesus too deeply participated in. Whatever all the other more superstitious things were about (and it is there in Judaism too), they did not replace or get confused with the essential task of relating to a God who cared about justice, due process, the Constitution, etc. Judaism did not make gods of all that other stuff. To claim that it did is a misrepresentation of ancient Judaism. The drive to see divine beings everywhere seems to have come primarily from paganism. I will continue to object to rewriting or ignoring the great things in ancient Jewish culture in order to creat a fictional Judaism that plays some role in modern theological or ideological battles.

Leon Zitzer

William Madden said...
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William Madden said...

Leon,

I really like this part of your post.
>
"This is the deepest and the most poetic part of Judaism, which Jesus too deeply participated in. Whatever all the other more superstitious things were about (and it is there in Judaism too), they did not replace or get confused with the essential task of relating to a God who cared about justice, due process, the Constitution, etc."

I appreciate your sense of not wanting a proper understanding of Jesus as a Jewish man in a rabbinic-type context to get lost amid all of the theorizing. It's a point well taken.

Geoff Hudson said...

"It is quite common these days for scholars to erase the accomplishments of the early Pharisees and rabbis by claiming that later rabbinic tradition re-wrote everything to suit some orthodox agenda."

They wrote practially everything to suit the Romans. They were compromisers, just like the early Christian writers. The result was, essentially state controlled religion, both Judaism and Christianity. Pharisees did not exist at the time Jesus was supposed to have lived. There is no evidence for them. They were formed by priests who had to get on without a temple, because the Romans would not allow them to have one, knowing the trouble that had come from it. There had been a conflict between priests who supported the temple cult of animal sacrifice, and the prophets who no longer saw the need for it. The prophets believed that one could worship God in the Spirit, and that the Spirit was God.

In 66 CE, forces under Nero, sympathetic to prophets, came to destroy the priests because they had killed Agrippa I and James who were prophets. The prophets inherited the temple in 66 CE, followed by a few peaceful years. After the death of Nero (and the year the three emperors) Vespasian seized power and ordered the destruction of the temple by his son. This could only be done slowly and systematically, basically by peeling the gold from the various surfaces. Then he torched it. The gold was used to fund Vespasian's rise to power.

The defenders of the temple were prophets. The prophets were destroyed, and this was the end of the 'earliest christianity'. Vespasian had protected himself from his guilt. Simon, the son of Judas was executed in Vespasian's triumph. There was no-one left to tell the truth.

Of course, from the temple, Vespasian had recovered all the prophet's original documents which became the New Testament, after his historians had taken care to conceal the truth.

Geoff Hudson said...

"At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended, and it took up residence in him, possessing him as it did all the prophets of old."

This was true of all prophets at the time Jesus was supposed to have lived. The difference then was that Judas promoted the idea that the Spirit was God, and not merely the power of God. This meant that the Spirit indwelling was God indwelling. The Spirit indwelling could cleanse. Hence there was no need to sacrifice animals.

Geoff Hudson said...

"Jesus called people to repentance, taught people how to interpret correctly and follow the Laws so that they could live righteously and be prepared for the coming of God's judgment."

Judas taught people to obey the Spirit. The law (unwritten law) became redundant. When you received the Spirit you received God and were cleansed, regardless of whether or not you were blind, or lame or whatever bodily imperfection one might have had. And there was no need to wait for judgement. At death, your spirit would wing its way to glory. But if you did not have the Spirit, you would be condemned.

Geoff Hudson said...

"Jewish rabbi with messianic leanings as the Mosaic messianic Prophet, the Righteous One, the resurrected martyr, the exalted Angel YHWH-KAVOD who can intercede on our behalf formed in the teachings of the foundational movement."

Judas was not messianic. That was the policy of the priests, which was why Neros army killed the Jewish high priests. They wanted their own king. The idea of intercession on our behalf was not Judas' either, but it came later with pauline theology.

pascal said...

Leon

The difficulty with your argument is that, in order to make it, you have totally erased the Temple and its priests from your description of the religion of Jews, including Jesus, living at the time both in Jewish Palestine and in the diaspora.

You have no evidence to support your implicit claim that
Judaism had dispensed with the Temple in favour of philosophising about the nature of justice before the Flavians destroyed the Temple, nor do you acknowledge that even for the majority of Jewish people living outside Palestine the Temple had such importance that the mere fact of a bullion shortage interfering with the remittance of the Temple tax was enough to lead to riots in the streets.

As for superstions, the Romans designated Judaism as 'superstitio', a label extended onwards to Christian Jews. We need not agree with their conclusions but we do need to know, at least, what they were...

Liam Madden said...

Oops, you meant, Geoff, didn't you Pascal. About your posts, Geoff, I'm with Pascal. The line of argument which you are pursuing is not actually the topic of this blog.

Geoff Hudson said...

A clue, Leon that a party of Jews rejected animal sacrifices, is in Josephus.

'They do not offer sacrifices.' (Ant 18.1.5)

This was no small 'party'.
They are in two large sections of text that were originally all about them (Ant.18.1 and War 2.8) -sections that originally had no information about Pharisees and Sadducees. They were heavily edited in a patronizing fashion. In War 2.8, the larger section, the 'Essenes' must have been very important to the War.

Judas was in with these texts. Judas is described as someone who 'prevailed with his countrymen to revolt' and 'not at all like the rest of those their leaders'. That is certainly the propaganda of the Flavian editors. Judas was a leader of the 'Essenes'. There were no Pharisees. They came later after the destruction of the temple. Everyone knew about the priests (the Sadducees), so there was no need to mention them.

Geoff Hudson said...

Whoops! I mean Pascal. And I have not totally dispensed with the temple. For four or five years after Nero's intervention, the 'Essenes' or prophets had the temple to themselves, and they had the altar of incense. God was present by his Spirit. There was no animal sacrifice.

Geoff Hudson said...

The fact that the temple was used for worship in the Spirit during the "revolt" is illustrated by the coins issued during the period. The images on the coins are ones of joy, and are associated with sanctuary worship, the ears of corn and the chalice. Then of course there are land sale documents for the period. One is hardly likely to find land sales at a time of war.

Leon said...

Liam,

Thank you for getting my point about the deepest part of Judaism and Jesus' participation in it. I should say that there is not merely a danger that this will get lost amidst all the theorizing. The danger has been realized for a long time. Jesus' essential Jewishness has been suppressed since the beginning of historical Jesus scholarship or NT studies.

The great majority of scholars would not be able to correctly answer the question: What makes Jesus so Jewish? In 200 hundred years of this scholarship, no one has even attempted a full-scale discussion of his Jewishness. It is not that it has been tried and they failed. No one has even bothered to try to gain a full understanding of his Jewishness and his rabbinic teachings. Do you realize how much Jesus talks about chutzpah towards God? A lot! And yet everyone ignores it.

Nor are scholars able to answer the questions of who were the Pharisees and what did they stand for. The overwhelming majority of scholars still talk about ancient Jewish culture as being about Temple, rituals, and purity concerns (or some such assortment). This is a trivialization of Jewish culture. Scholars have taken their own obsessions with these things and projected them onto ancient Jews. If the great accomplishments of the Greeks are seen in their language (plays, philosophy, etc.) and not in their temples and animal sacrifices, then what is good for the Greeks is good for the Jews. The great Jewish accomplishments were in language and I do not even mean primarily scripture, but oral Torah where Jews debated each other and God about justice, peace, due process, etc. This was the world of Jesus and it is lost on a regular basis, not merely in danger of being lost.

The goal for most NT scholars is not to understand ancient Jewish culture, but to control it — to pick out a few things and to invent some points, and then offer this as their fictional version of Judaism. The real historical Judaism gets lost because scholars have erased so much.

In a rational world of scholarship, Judaism would be studied for its own sake and not for what it offers scholars in their theological battles. There is so much that is missed about ancient Judaism and Jesus' own Jewish nature, and all this stuff that has been ignored or suppressed is so exciting, yet the scholarly world has effectively shoved into the dark.

Leon Zitzer

Liam Madden said...

Leon, yes, of course you're right. Incidentally, have you read and what's your opinion about "Jesus the Jew" by Geza Vermes? It's on my reading list. I'm told that it's a well-regarded work, but in your opinion, does he avoid the types of pitfalls of the type that you have described?

Leon said...

As for Geza Vermes, he does and he doesn't avoid these pitfalls. He does a good job on some things and lets other things go by. "Jesus the Jew" is the first book he published on this and well worth reading. After that, he wrote "The Religion of Jesus the Jew" (1993) and more recently still, "The Authentic Gospel of Jesus" (2003). They are all worth reading.

My major criticism of Vermes is that he tends to focus on some of the smaller aspects of Jesus' Jewishness, and then in passing, he will mention something very important but give it short attention. E.g., besides my own work, he is the only scholar I know of who will at least mention that Jesus talks about chutzpah. He will give one or two examples and then drop it. He does not discuss it further, nor does he see how deep it goes.

In "The Religion of Jesus the Jew", he makes one extremely important point in a footnote and says no more about it. He has a lot of good insights, but I find him disappointing because he does not explore Jesus' Jewishness as much as could be done. He has also indicated that he is not really in favor of seeing Jesus as a rabbi. He would rather see Jesus as a healer and wonder-worker with charisma. For Vermes, it seems that he regards rabbi as a diminishment of Jesus. A lot of scholars feel this way. As I have pointed out in my own work, this is ironic because Jesus seems to have regarded rabbi as too great a title.

In the study of history, we have an obligation to at least try to capture how historical figures saw themselves. I think scholars have generally failed to do this with Jesus. They have failed to see how truly humble he was and what that humility means. This is a big piece of the picture scholars have left out.

Leon Zitzer