Monday, June 8, 2009

Creating Jesus 14: Jerusalem soteriology

When you have a possession christology in which Jesus is a full human being with human parents, who is a righteous man filled by God with the Holy Spirit, so righteous that he is resurrected from the dead and exalted to the Name Above All Names, the way salvation works for everyone else corresponds. So texts with associations with early Jerusalem understand the path of salvation in a very particular way, a way that I can only describe as "imitative." Since Jesus started out as a human being like everyone else, that meant other human beings could imitate him and receive the same rewards.

This is the earliest soteriological teaching I have been able to reconstruct from the literature:
1. baptism by invoking the Name which cleansed the initiate of past sins so that his or her soul could receive the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had at his baptism. Anointing to receive the Holy Spirit appears to have been a later addition to the ceremony (cf. Acts 8:14-17).

2. righteous living in imitation of Jesus and putting into action his teachings about Torah. The Holy Spirit aided the person to meet this end. There was no penance for post-baptismal sin, no way to atone for it. Your goal was to perfect yourself with the help of the Holy Spirit (the same spirit that had been Jesus' - thus the language of Christ's spirit in Paul) who indwelled you (cf. Matt 5:48; James 1:4; Didache 1-6; Barn 18-21). This path of piety was faith. Faith wasn't belief. It was living your life in accordance with God's will which had been communicated through Jesus.

3. eucharist was a thanksgiving meal, a joyous party, celebrating the imminent return of Jesus as the Judge, and anticipating being part of the banquet that would take place at that time. The meal may have had a covenantal aspect where the Christian Jews affirmed that they were the New Israel through the death of the Righteous One, Jesus (1 Cor 11:25-26; Luke 22:14-18).

4. at death or the eschaton, whichever occurred first, the faithful would be resurrected and rewarded in heaven with glorified bodies and exaltation (i.e. thrones, crowns, white robes, Name, etc).


Leon said...

I really do not think that Jesus' earliest Jewish followers thought of themselves as the New Israel. And certainly not as Christians, which is also a later idea. They were just Israel, waiting for the final end and the return of the Messiah. "New Israel", or the true Israel (Verus Israel), was a later polemical concept of the Church. The later Christian Church wanted to prove to pagans that, on the one hand, they were part of and a continuation of an older tradition (Israel), but, on the other hand, they were the truer and better continuation of it.

Remember that the original name of this group for itself was the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4). The Way is probably a translation of Halachah. So this group was arguing for its halachah over other interpretations of halachah. It was a thoroughly Jewish group. This was their continuation of Israel and halachah, not the new Israel. "New" would have made no sense to them. They were ancient as far as they were concerned. For the pagans entering this, some of this may have felt new to them and I mean new in a good way, a new burst of inspiration and energy. But it is also true that Christian polemics against Jews turned this into a belief that they were newer and truer than the Jews.

And there is one other thing that got lost in all this. The Pharisees with their emphasis on constitutional government, due process, justice, rational debate, and oppostition to arbitrary human rule, was in its youth in the 1st century. They were as new as the later Christians would be. Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism was not an old culture in Jesus' time. It was young and vibrant and in a full bloom of creativity. Jesus knew that and participated in it. Unfortunately, a part of Christian theology, that has not yet ended, came to teach that the Judaism of Jesus' day was old and decrepit. We actually had two youthful movements here — Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity — but the former came to be misrepresented as stale and old. That historical lie has to be corrected and it will also help to appreciate what the early Jesus movement (before it evolved into Christianity) was about.

Leon Zitzer

pascal said...


I am keenly aware of the dangers of putting 21st century concepts into the minds of those living 2000 years ago, but I do wonder whether there may have been an element of what is now called 'survivor guilt' in ratcheting up still further the psychological pressures on his disciples.

That would, I think, apply in particular to those who abandoned Jesus at the place of execution, and thus did not see his death.

In that light there would be an even greater need to believe not only that:

'the faithful would be resurrected and rewarded in heaven with glorified bodies and exaltation (i.e. thrones, crowns, white robes, Name, etc).'

but also that they were 'the faithful' in question...