I completed reading Richard Carrier “On the historicity of Jesus” (OHJ) (last blog). I skipped the formula’s and will return to those later. While writing this, I am listening to “Lola” (1964) by Stavros Xarhakos.
Carrier claims that standard historical methods on Jesus are deficient. At the same time he refers to peer-reviewed historical works to claim support for some of his findings. This is not so consistent. Readers may be at a loss, especially when they are no historians but merely trained in logic and methodology:
“The traditional and established methods of historians are analyzed using the [Bayes] theorem, as well as all the major “historicity criteria” employed in the latest quest to establish the historicity of Jesus. The author demonstrates not only the deficiencies of these approaches but also ways to rehabilitate them using Bayes’s Theorem.” (Carrier, cover of “Proving History”) (book not read by me).
One supposes that there is no other way than that historians clean up the mess. The brunt of the work will fall on the historians themselves, as few readers will be interested to delve into the issues in detail.
We may assume however that historians are open to critical comments from readers with backgrounds in different subjects. The study of Jesus has been an ivory tower for too long, which caused the present mess.Thus let us target for a beneficial flow between experts and the educated non-experts. My interest derives from the education of mathematics, see “The simple mathematics of Jesus” (SMOJ) (2012).
Epistle to the Hebrews, logic, the gap between Judaism and Christianity
OHJ made me more aware of the existence and portent of the Epistle to the Hebrews. By his discussion I am struck by the application of logic in that epistle. This isn’t a mere letter but an exercise in logic. This fits my approach in SMOJ, that the clash of Judaism with the Greeks and Romans also was affected by the Greek attention for logic and mathematics (see what Euclid did in Alexandria around 300 BC).
This exercise in logic in Hebrews made me also more aware of the gap between Judaism and Christianity. As Adam had eaten the apple and been thrown out of paradise, Moses made a covenant with Yahweh: the chosen people would be saved from Original Sin as long as they maintained Mosaic Law. This meant circumcision. This also meant obeying the Levite priesthood and support the sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. This also reflected a power struggle in which the kingdom of Judea won from the kingdom of Israel / Samaria, and in which the temple at Gerizim and the priesthood of Melchizedek lost. The Levite monopoly on the priesthood was only nuanced by the option for persons from other tribes to be a nazir for a specific purpose, well supervised by the Temple. Enter now the new high priest of Jesus with a new covenant. As it took only one person, Adam, to create Original Sin, it took only one person, Jesus, to save mankind from it. Rather than sacrifice animals each day, Jesus will bring the greatest sacrifice, his life, be the Lamb of God, and achieve a result for eternity. Circumcision is no longer needed, just the belief in Jesus is enough, and baptism will do. The Levite priesthood in Jerusalem is stripped from its covenant and purpose and power.
Part of the logic is that Hebrews has Adam and Melchizedek as celestial beings, so that Jesus is so too. One of the promises by Yahweh to Moses was that the king of Judea would always be a descendant from David. Everyone from 200 BC to 100 AD could see that this was no longer true to fact. Hebrews solves the issue in theological manner: Yahweh takes the seed from David in heaven and creates Jesus with it. Whence Yahweh kept his promise and all Jews ought to follow Jesus.
The Epistle to the Hebrews beats the priesthood in Jerusalem in their own game. They failed in maintaining Mosaic Law by allowing kings not descending from David and high priests not descending from Levi. They didn’t have a logical answer to their failure. Now there is a logical argument that destroys their power base. What clinches the argument is that Hebrews selects its key phrases and reasons from the Old Testament itself. The epistle isn’t just a lecture but a reasoned argument from the holy book itself. The priesthood in Jerusalem is checkmate.
NB. See here for a short discussion of Original Sin in the Torah.
Who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews ?
Carriers starts OHJ with the “Ascension of Isaiah“, one of gospels that are not in the official canon. My impression is that he could rather start with Hebrews that is in the canon and that serves his purpose of presenting a celestial (mythical) Jesus too.
It is not known who wrote the epistle but given the theological attack on Jerusalem we may wonder who might have been inspired to develop the logic.
- Judeans themselves, who became sensitive to apocalyptic ideas about the end of some cycle.
- Hellenizing Judeans in Alexandria or Antioch, who wanted their society to adapt, check e.g. the high priest Jesus (Jason) in 175-172 BC who founded the city of Antioch, or check Philo (20 BC-50 AD) and the Therapeutae.
- Judeans who fled from Jerusalem looking for orthodoxy but found themselves developing another logic, possibly in Qumran or Leontopolis.
- Judeans after 70 AD who needed to adapt to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and a way to save the earlier books about Yahweh. (A new law does not replace an old law but adds to it. Christianity still carries the Old Testament to prove that the New Testament didn’t fall from the sky.)
- The Herodians who were of Edomite descent and claimed to be of the tribe of Benjamin, who were always criticized for not being from David, and who wanted to appoint their own priests.
- The Samaritans after the destruction of their temple at Gerizim by John Hyrcanus in 128 BC. Note that the Samaritans had stronger links to Babylonia and were aware of the cult of Inanna (dying and rising goddess). (However, their priests would be from Zadok, and thus less inclined to destroy their own claims, see here and here.)
- Johanan ben Zak(k)ai flees from Jerusalem in a coffin, predicts Vespasian that he will be emperor and rule over Jerusalem, and is rewarded with Javne, from which current rabbinic Judaism derives. He might feel forced to adapt the holy script that Jerusalem must be ruled by a descendant from David.
- The Ptolemaic dynasty, who already had created Serapis as a syncretic god for both Greeks and Egyptians, who also wanted to loosen the ties of their native Jews from Jerusalem.
- The Romans after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD who would want Jews to lose their bellicose belief.
Richard Carrier does not yet follow the “time shift” hypothesis by Lena Einhorn. In my interpretation of his results, but including Einhorn, an obvious scenario is that the story of the celestial Jesus already existed before 70 AD, and that the destruction of the Temple caused some authors to create the Gospel of Mark in which the celestial Jesus is replaced by a Jesus walking the Earth. Thus the motives for the celestial and earthly Jesus somewhat differ, and the latter takes advantage of the earlier. (See this earlier weblog why Christ came to Earth.) The reason for this scenario would be that the Epistle to the Hebrews would not show a notion that the Temple had been destroyed.
Perhaps an alternative still lies with an approach in which the destruction of the Temple was so far in the past that it didn’t matter so much anymore. One scenario would turn the Samaritan Simon Magus into Paul, with one of his pupils again teaching Marcion, see the approach by Detering and his attention for the Dutch Radicals and their view on the Pauline (rather Marcionite) epistles. This slow scenario would allow for a more gradual development till Nicaea in 325 AD. But it is not discussed by Carrier.
I was struck by this review by Robert M. Price of a book by Eisenman. Price also discusses Huller on the Samaritan connection. Huller’s 1999 book wasn’t well received, see also Huller’s sigh on New Testament Scholars, but Price gave it five stars in 2009. The only answer remains proper scholarship.
Reading Carrier’s book I was again struck by the label “nazoraios“. In SMOJ (2012) I couldn’t get a good explanation for it. Wikipedia still lists the possibilities …. and pick your choice …. Nazarene doesn’t fit. The following new suggestion isn’t in that wikipedia list.
Since the education of mathematics of Jesus requires a good look at Egypt and the pyramids, and since Josephus’s Egyptian is also mentioned by Carrier and Einhorn, I wondered whether NZR would mean something useful here. I presume that vowels in Egyptian and Hebrew are less certain than consonants.
Josephus’s Egyptian might have designated himself as a fulfiller, thereby creating a label for himself that his environment had difficulty interpreting – but as a non-historian I would not know whether the demotic of the New Kingdom was still valid around 70 AD:
“nzrt as “Fulfiller” and pr-nzr as “Fulfilling house” – such a designation of the ancient shrine of the Delta may mean something like “shrine answering (i. e. fulfilling) prayers”. (Timofey Shmakov p 80, rejecting “flame”)
Since the Epistle of the Hebrews presents Jesus as a high priest, I suppose that this might fit. Thus “Jesus the nazoraois” (notably in Acts and copied by Matthew but not Mark) could mean “Jesus who is crowned as the high priest”.
I leave it as a suggestion to the linguistic experts. Interestingly Day (ed) still mentions Milgrom with a link (but called unlikely) to the Egyptian nzr.t (snake goddess) or nsr.t (flame) “both used for the Uraeus serpent projecting from Pharaoh’s crown”. Given the fundamental influence of the Egyptian Book of the Dead upon the Old Testament I wonder whether that link really is unlikely.
By way of conclusion
At this stage I am still far from a conclusion. Perhaps a comparison of SMOJ with Carrier’s OHJ is a good way to see whether there can be some such conclusion. In the mean time: (1) OHJ is an advisable read when you are interested in the origins of Christianity, and on questions about how to deal with the three Abrahamic religions, (2) The arguments on probability and Bayes still seem less relevant than the arguments on logic and facts as these already transpire from OHJ, (3) Ancient history apparently is a mess and we should hope for a climate in which they get their act together, and in which they also open up to critical comments from educated outsiders (as other fields of enquiry do too).