Bedrock certainties on Jesus for academics and fringe

Listening to Litany by Saleas & Theodorakis
and Lianotragouda tis Glykias Patridas by Theodorakis
and Mousiki Bradya by Biky Moscholiou

I am still trying to get some clarity on Richard Carrier’s book On the historicity of Jesus (2014).

Given the chaos in the research on Jesus, and Carrier’s critique about his fellow historians, I already proposed last week to focus on the importance of Jesus for education

My question for today is: What are bedrock certainties that educators would use to develop the educational programme ? Derivative from these foundations are the topics that teachers would discuss with the pupils and students. Observe this logic:

  • Elsewhere I suggested that philosophy as a field runs astray since they don’t have an empirical base. The proper solution is that philosophy adopts the research in the education of mathematics as its empirical base. The later namely combines both abstract thought and the empirics of education of these thoughts.
  • The proposal on Jesus is parallel. Jesus would concern the philosophy of religion and the empirical base would be the research of the education of mathematics on such issues of religion. One key point in such education is that you should beware that abstraction leads you astray. One aspect in such education concerns also the history of religion, and of course Jesus in particular.
  • As a teacher of mathematics my proposal for a multidisciplinary approach is in The simple mathematics of Jesus (SMOJ) (2012). What have I learned in the two years since December 2012 ? The first is that SMOJ is still valid, and that you will benefit from considering it. The following builds on.
  • Historians of antiquity are invited to open up to other sciences and educators. Let the historians leave the sheltered darkness of the academia and step into the sun of public interest. Let them state what topics should be in the highschool textbooks and for what reasons. This will allow the other sciences and educators to help deconstruct confusion, and help attain true reason and common sense.
Panels or elements leading to a meta level

The subject is too large and must be broken up into pieces that can be handled.

SMOJ used “panels” as building blocks. I see to my pleasure that Richard Carrier uses “elements”. The following discussion tries to identify such building blocks at a meta level, for both analysis and development of a teaching programme. SMOJ did so implicitly, by selecting the panels that would fit such a programme. It helps to be explicit about this.

I am no historian but an econometrician and teacher of mathematics, and I look at the issue of the mythical vs historical Jesus from these very perspectives. I do this with respect for proper history writing, dismay for incompetence w.r.t. science & methodology, admiration for creative hypothesizing, and protest to distortion. My comments are mostly questions, since the final educational programme will come about in said multidisciplinary fashion.

Bedrock certainties

Bedrock certainties might not exist, but let us see what these might look like.

A. Bedrock certainties on Jesus are:
  1. We will never know for certain whether there was only a myth or indeed some historical Jesus. Too much of the data have been lost. There are too many possibilities that we cannot properly test.
  2. Carrier proposes systematic use of probability theory, but this generates only a probabilistic outcome (for who chooses those) and no certainty.
  3. Historians are no judges. History writing as a science is targeted at identifying the uncertainties and not at trying to be like a judge and decide what “really happened” (according to the judge).
B. Bedrock certainties on humanity are:
  1. Man is a story-telling animal. Language is the bread & butter of being human. Humans think by recognising patterns, and those patterns are relayed in language.
  2. The notion of abstraction, which in mathematics causes perfect concepts like line and circle, basically applies to thinking and language in general. It requires hard work to determine which is which, just like in mathematics. Notions like soul and god might have use for human communication. Wittgenstein’s dictum “the meaning of a word is its use” is correct but too vague, see my note on the common error of not properly defining abstraction. Plato was too vague here too, which produces confused mathematicians who have a “platonic conception” of their profession without quite knowing what they mean by that. See also the consequences for brain research, and the requirement to re-engineer mathematics so that brain research doesn’t climb up a tree of their own making.

Derivative of these is that stories about the self and society will be created by use of patterns and abstractions of all kinds of phenomena: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunami’s, stars, comets, kings and queens, tea-leaves …. Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a Moon eclipse, when the Earth blocks the Sun and the Earth atmosphere fractions light that creates a red moon. The wolf is darkness that eats the Moon. But LRRH arises again. Once you understand the code, the method of coding and telling of stories does not differ very much from a discussion in elementary school about “atoms” and “electrons”. But some stories have very complex codes.

Robert M. Price’s reminds us of the importance of having an open mind. He recommended thinking about Stephan Huller’s proposals – though Price recommends thinking about everything, see his brutal reading list. Still, Huller recently had a recommendable similar observation on the unavoidable property of language. (See other good observations by him in the appendix below on the rock in Jerusalem and the stone in Gerizim.)

Robbert Dijkgraaf, now president of IAS in Princeton, still writes a column for a Dutch newspaper:

“Where lies the origin of religion?  (…) We can now see the birth of gods happening before our eyes. In particular via cable television, namely the American Weather Channel. (….) for what John Steward in the Daily Show called so aptly ‘Blizzapocalpsegeddon’. (…) Up to recently only real hurricanes and typhoons got a name. The management of the Weather Channel however has decided that every atmospheric phenomenon deserves its own name. (…) We are back at zero. After mankind has freed itself from supernatural explanations, in a long struggle via humanism, scientific revolution and enlightenment, now the modern media lead us back towards anthropomorphic thought. (…) A human being has difficulty to distinguish the diffuse cloud of dots from natural phenomena. Our imagination likes to draw lines between the dots (..) Perhaps we should embrace the inclination to project  in nature the human or superhuman. Perhaps a new series of gods and demons helps to solve the most important problems that threaten the world. Time for a re-entry of Hephaistos, now as the god of climate change (…) And of course Poseidon with his storms, floods and earthquakes. I can easily imagine how CNN with its arsenal of animations, graphs and experts would report about this new Olympus.”  (Robbert Dijkgraaf, NRC-Handelsblad  2015-02-07, “Webcam on the Olympus”)

I regard this newspaper column as somewhat important since it underlines the metaphorical nature of language. It is plain wonderful that Dijkgraaf as a physicist shows this understanding. Also, the irony in the column can be appreciated. At least, I suppose that Dijkgraaf doesn’t really propose to create a god of climate change. However, irony is fun but not quite adequate to pinpoint what the proper solution is. Just to prevent misunderstandings: it remains important what metaphor you select.

(In this case: (1) It would be wrong to create a god of climate change. We should create institutions and policies to deal with it. Admittedly, this is my field of economics, but I hope that you agree that economics is better than vague & false gods. See my suggestion to create national Economic Supreme Courts. (2) Rather than enhancing the belief in gods, it would be proper to counter the negative aspects of the belief in the gods of current religions. In sum: it is somewhat a pity that Dijkgraaf selected the option of a fun column without thinking about or explaining the proper metaphors. There is a history of Holland here: see also my warning that he might become Darth Vader at IAS.)

C. Bedrock certainties on method are:

It follows that the major methods of research on Jesus are:

  1. Decoding requires identification of (theonomical rather than theological) concepts and of the interests of the parties involved. Pierre Krijbolder 1976 pioneered this ethnomethodology on Jesus – but there may be precursors.
  2. The main method of analysis is logic – and, okay, probability analysis to manage the database, since probabilities would indicate levels of priority. We already deduced: (a) The theological argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews (part of the NT canon) is that the Jerusalem priesthood loses its power. Thus Jesus also concerns a Jewish framework and story. (b)  The Torah recognises Original Sin even though this is denied. (c) The Torah is Gnostic even though this is denied. Below we will see (d) Voskuilen’s macabre parallel that destroys Matthew as a proper gospel and exposes it as propaganda.
  3. The main method for finding data is literary analysis.
  4. Another main method for finding data is archeology. Up to now the findings on Jesus or David are negative. It is a compliment for the integrity of archeology that they state this result instead of creating what they think is missing. But, given the lack of data, we must look to literary analysis for data on Jesus.

A result already is: Eisenman and Einhorn independently came upon the time shift hypothesis, holding that the NT shifts the events of 70 AD to 30 AD, one generation earlier.

  • This hypothesis would rather be logical given the data, and it becomes difficult to call it a “hypothesis”.
  • Carbon-dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) may be out of the question nowadays given all the contamination by the unscientific handling.
  • The time shift hypothesis remains complex. What Josephus wrote about 70 AD was coded by the NT writers into what he wrote about 30 AD; and we must decode this. While Josephus naturally cannot be trusted as a historian. Richard Carrier quotes Thomas Brodie:

“it is not possible, in any reliable way, to invoke Josephus as an independent witness to Jesus. Unreliable witness cannot be used to condemn someone to death. And neither can it be used to assert that someone lived.” (Brodie quoted by Carrier)

Having these bedrocks, let us finish the logic that deconstructs Matthew, and then continue with Brodie on literary analysis. First, though, two smaller observations

The concundrum hasn’t been caused by Jesus but by Constantine

From the above, it might seem that Jesus forms the core of the problem. However, the true problem lies with Constantine, for whom there might be more historical sources.

Christianity arose from Constantine, because of his Christian mother and political calculation that he needed the legions from Egypt (rather than Mithra). Thus all our discussion here is a result of political outfall. Had politics taken another route, we would be discussing the theological issues of the angels on the hairpin of Mithra or the deeds of Loki in Valhalla or whatever. However, there is also the force of history that Alexander caused a clash between Greek thought (Plato and mathematics) with Oriental and Egyptian thought (mystery priesthoods). It took the Romans all those centuries from Caesar to Constantine to develop some merger into the Church of Rome. They tried to get away from it, but there may be some hidden psychological necessity that causes this kind of merger (mathematical priesthood ?).

In the writing of history on Jesus, it thus might be advisable to first defuse potential emotional hang-ups by discussing Constantine. Christians might argue that Constantine’s choice was ordained but the historical path shows ample variation to allow a skeptical discussion about such ordination.

Secondly, my personal position is that Jesus is Santa Claus for grown-ups. Originally there were myths about Wodan flying in the sky on his horse Sleipnir, but the eight legs were not credible and thus changed into reindeer, while the Catholic Church inserted the Bishop of Myra, who is now depicted in Dutch stories as Sinterklaas riding his horse on rooftops. The mayor of Gouda had to arrest 90 people last year November, who think that Sinterklaas’s black helpers derive from slavery, but actually these are the spirits of the night who attack the Sun and who have to be scared away with firecrackers. See the Egyptian Gods in the Hall of Ma’at, when Osiris – with the same bishop crown – judges whether the children have behaving last year and deserve their Christmas presents. How simple can explanations be, once you think about them ?

However, the story that there is a historical Jesus deserves proper attention, both from fairness and curiosity, and of course from scientific integrity. Jesus might have been a historical figure who has been pasted onto the resurrection stories of the dying and rising Sun, OR, Jesus might have been a real person who did remarkable stuff and onto whom the myths have been pasted. It is a crucial question, for people who think that special people may have special inspiration. Also, the notion of mathematical abstraction is quite intriguing, and mankind has to find ways to deal with its consciousness.

Voskuilen & Sheldon: Paul was from the Roman CIA

Thijs Voskuilen in 2002 wrote his master’s thesis in history at the University of Groningen. He argued that Paul was a Roman spy – see the frumentarii, originally wheat merchants.

One of Verkuilen’s 2002 sources was dr. Mary Rose Sheldon, Colonel, professor of history at the Virginia Military Institute, who holds at least since 1997 that the Romans were experts in political manipulation, espionage and dirty tricks. Voskuilen and Sheldon jointly wrote the 2008 book: Operation Messiah: St Paul, Roman Intelligence and the Birth of Christianity.

(Remember that there was a famine around 44 AD and that Queen Helen of Adiabene paid for grain from Egypt and figs from Cyprus. She was baptised and her son needed no circumcision. There is the complaint against Simon Magus that one cannot buy God’s love. Also Marcion apparently was given his money back. Note that the figs might also be a midrash on the fig-tree and the new faith derived from the Kittim. One never knows.)

Spy Paul would have pretended to have his vision on the road to Damascus merely to infiltrate in the sect that still followed a deceased Jesus, which would be Torah-abiding Jews, linked to the sicarii. Paul would have derived the resurrection from a cult about Herakleitos from the area around his native Tarsus. Google doesn’t give me a quick source for such a cult. Currently I have conflicting information.

(1) Hippolytus claims to quote Heraclitus on resurrection.
“No one working on Hellenistic philosophy would rely on Hippolytus’s accounts to suggest that Stoics or Heraclitus believed in bodily resurrection.”
(Jonathan Klawans, Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism, p 227-228)
(3) Henri van Praag has argued that Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC) who started the Stoa actually had roots in Judaism (Dutch reference in SMOJ).

And what was the order of the events ? Roger Parvus has recently argued rather persuasively that Saul / Paul was first a member of the nazoraios sect but later became an apostate. To hide this, the Acts would have reversed the events.

That there were spies must be correct, but I am skeptic whether Paul operated like some 007. The theology is too complex. But perhaps Verkuilen’s analysis has evolved from 2002 to his book of 2008.

“Saul of Tarsus is one of the best known and most beloved figures of Christianity. This man, later known as St. Paul, set the tone for Christianity, including an emphasis on celibacy, the theory of divine grace and salvation, and the elimination of circumcision. It was Paul who wrote a large part of the New Testament, and who called it euangelion, “the gospel”. There is another side of Paul, however, that has been little studied and that is his connection to the Roman military establishment and its intelligence arm. While other scholars and writers have suggested the idea that Paul was cooperating with the Romans, this is the first book-length study to document it in detail. By looking at the traditional story through a new lens, some of the thorniest questions and contradictions in Paul’s life can be unravelled. How did he come to work for the Temple authorities who collaborated with the Romans? How was he able to escape from legal situations in which others would have been killed? Why were so many Jews trying to have Paul killed and to which sect did they belong? These and other mysteries will be solved as the authors follow Paul’s career and his connections to Roman intelligence.” (Verkuilen and Sheldon, Amazon, book cover)

Voskuilen & Sheldon 2008

Voskuilen & Sheldon 2008

Earlier, Richard Carrier argued against Joseph Atwill that the Romans would not create a plot like Atwill proposed, but now the story would be that they allowed Paul to do so. See my first reaction to Carrier’s OHJ.

Voskuilen’s macabre parallel – Matthew’s inversion of reason

Whatever Voskuilen’s theory on the spy business, the following holds independently.

Biblical scholars reading the Gospels have come up with the hypothesis that they may be directed to particular audiences. Mark to the Romans, Matthew to the Jews, Luke to the Gentiles in general.

Voskuilen wondered in 2002 whether Matthew knew what he was doing.  Would Matthew’s story really induce Jews to forgive and love the Romans ? He gives the following parallel, that he himself rightly calls macabre (Dutch, De Groene 2002).

Matthew wishing to convert Jews Voskuilen’s macabre parallel
Romans occupy Israel and Judea Germans occupy Israel and Judea
Romans crucify their messiah king Germans gas their messiah king
Jews should pay taxes to the Romans Jews should pay taxes to the Germans
Jews should turn the other cheek to the Romans Jews should turn the other cheek to the Gestapo
The messiah king is not political but spiritual The messiah king is not political but spiritual
Yahweh wants the Romans to rule Jerusalem Yahweh wants the Germans to rule Jerusalem
The messiah king is worshiped in Rome as a state religion. The Vatican is in Rome The messiah king is worshiped in Berlin as a state religion. The Vatican is in Berlin
Churches show the crucified messiah king Churches show the gassing messiah king

Matthew must be off this world to think that he can convert people in this manner.

  • The Talmud calls Christianity by the name of the Notzrim. We saw before, thanks to Yirmeyahu, what this word means to them: guardians, who keep us captive. (He also claims that nazoraios would be wrong Greek translation.)
  • Matthew indeed depicts Jesus as descendant from David and more observing of the Torah laws – while Acts and Luke with the Pauline interpretation abolish circumcision and such. Matthew thus puts some sugar on the macabre situation. His Torah-observant readership is supposed to be so dumb not to see the horror below the sugar.
  • The theological model is that the crucifixion is required by God indeed. Thus Judas and the Romans are only executing God’s will – so don’t blame them.
  • The theological model of the Ascension of Isaiah makes some sense in translating Winter Solstice when the forces of darkness are celestial, since the hero of the story is this too. However, when the hero is put into the flesh, then also the forces of darkness much be put into the flesh. To depict the Romans as devils in the flesh is rather inconsistent w.r.t. the message of love. It seems that Matthew did not quite think through all consequences of the flesh idea.
  • Alternatively, Matthew was aware of the latter consequence, and then this Gospel exists for the Romans, to provide the rationale: The Jews have no excuse for not joining up, for let them read Matthew to see his example. This pushes a religion down someone’s throat.
  • Do you wish to be with the Germans, in this situation ?

Addendum 2015-02-24: Earlier we found that the Epistle to the Hebrews gave the remarkable logical argument that it is the Tanakh itself that argues that the priesthood in Jerusalem loses power. Later, we discovered the same argument made in this document at Crandall. Thus, the Voskuilen macabre parallel would not be so macabre if the Hebrew readership would only consider this logical argument. But the logic presumes some premisses, like (Paul’s faith) that Jesus indeed had been the Davidic messiah sacrifice. Jewish readers might dismiss that as part of the propaganda too.

In the upcoming 2015 book by Joan Taylor on the Life of Brian, Steve Mason has an article ‘What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?’ Brian and Josephus on Anti-Roman Sentiment. Its summary suggests that there were rather peaceful times in say 20-50 AD, and that Voskuilen’s macabre parallel is acutely relevant if Matthew was written after 70 AD when Jerusalem and Temple were destroyed. It is not clear to me what Mason actually thinks about the time shift hypothesis.

“Like Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur a century earlier, Monty Python’s Life of Brian assumes the same gathering-storm or cork-popping picture of Judaean-Roman relations that has undergirded most published research on pre-70 Judaea. Some recent scholarship has challenged that model by exposing the lack of evidence for an anti-Roman animus that could explain the outbreak of war and highlighting instead the unique conditions that generated revolt in 66. In this paper I re-examine Judaean-Roman relations in the decades before the war. Like many other well known conflicts, I argue, the war in Judaea began from local causes. From a realist perspective, Jerusalem was uniquely privileged as the regional hegemon in southern Syria; Roman legates were particularly solicitous of its elite. Judaeans were concerned chiefly with hostile neighbours, from whom Rome’s interests protected them — until the train wreck of Nero’s later years.” (Steve Mason, Aberdeen) (After the fire in Rome in 66 AD, Nero raised taxes for a rebuild.)

Academics for comedy and against the fringe

Monty Python’s film Life of Brian has a surprising role in this part of this discussion. Academics apparently love this comedy but they dislike the fringe that should cause amazement too.

Consider last year’s academic conference and upcoming book on Brian: conference videos, and my earlier comment. Some hold that the comedy might actually be historically quite accurate, but it assumes a historical Jesus and events around 30 AD, rather than a myth combined with events around 70 AD. The comedy inspired some historical research though. The key problem for non-academic fringe authors might only be to get their ideas filmed, so that academics have a hook to fish for a wider audience for their own confusions.

“Ever since Philip Davies first wrote on the film 15 years ago, other scholars too have turned their gaze to consider exactly what Life of Brian does in regard to Jesus scholarship, and have increasingly delved into its curious corners to reflect on what it says both about the tumultuous times of Jesus and also contemporary scholarly discussions.  Biblical scholarship has moved on greatly in the past 25 years, and various aspects of Life of Brian correlate with themes now intensely explored. Every Bible scholar knows what ‘blessed are the cheese-makers’ means among us!” (Bart Ehrman, weblog 2014, quoting from the conference, and not writing this himself) (See below for the cheesemakers.)

This brings us to the fringe. My intention is to amply refer to their work so that you can see the usefulness. This also explains why this current text is a bit long. Now the fringe can be read in context. If I would deal with the fringe separately then prim readers would quickly neglect the argumentation.

In the proper scheme of the world, the fringe would also participate in the educational project.

Below I will look at some contributions from Stephan Huller, René Salm and Ralph Ellis. I invite them not to hold it against me that I put them at the fringe for now. I am no historian and in that respect not qualified to judge. While their books are neglected or looked down upon by some, or even many, they can at times more or less make as much sense as those from the academia. (This is a carefully crafted statement that can go two ways.)

Earlier Richard Carrier lashed out at Joseph Atwill, but in the above we saw the Operation Messiah book, that shows that there are some reasons to think into that direction. In my first reaction on Carrier’s OHJ I already included a plea for moderation. Subsequently I saw that Aaron Adair lashed out at Ralph Ellis. Moderation again had been wiser, see below.

Since literary analysis is important, it stands to reason that the input from creative writers from the non-academic fringe could be important. Their state of creative mind may be closer to the writers of the New Testament than the state of literally focused mind of academics who need to write another paper for a peer reviewed journal. Let us now look at literary analysis.

Thomas Brodie’s literary analysis: Jesus ~ Yahweh and Paul ~ Moses

Thomas Brodie relied on literary analysis and suggests the following as the true story on the origin of Christianity. Observe that I did not read his book, and refer to a review by non-academic author René Salm.

“the figure of Paul joined the ranks of so many other figures from the older part of the Bible, figure who, despite the historical details surrounding them, were literary, figures of the imagination” (146).(Thomas Brodie, quoted by René Salm, part 2)

“Along with many others, I have begun to show the increasing evidence that the New Testament portrayal of Paul is modeled significantly on the Old Testament picture of Moses, and that the portrayal of Jesus is largely a synthesis of the Old Testament account of God and of all that God does, often through people. [183]

So the starting point for the history of Christianity is as follows. The story/narrative and institutions of Christianity are an adaptation of the story and institutions of Judaism. But the leading figures in the story, Jesus and Paul, were not the originators either of the story or institutions. Rather, the account of them is modeled on the old story in such a way—complete, complex, detailed, artistic—that they emerge as scriptural figures formed by others. [184]” (Thomas Brodie, quoted by René Salm, part 2)

Saul of Tarsus is a basket case

I was rather shocked when I read the following lines. Why does this midrash not belong to the standard explanations about Paul ? And observe that I refer to fringe author Ralph Ellis.

“The gospels say that Saul was born in Tarsus, but this may only be a reference of his being lowered down the walls of ‘Damascus’ in a basket – for tarsus (ταρσός) means ‘basket’. This is also a convenient biblical description, for Moses too was ‘born in a basket’.” (Ralph Ellis, King Jesus, p82)

(Here Ellis creatively turns it directly into a metaphor ‘born in a basket’. Moses was not born in a basket but merely put into a basket and set floating in the Nile. If he got a bit wet – perhaps also as babies do by themselves – then this might indeed be seen as rebirth via baptism. I don’t know how important baptism was in Egypt. Perhaps Judaism replaced Egyptian baptism by circumcision – baptism by blood since there is little water in the desert so far from the Nile. It might also be a rationale for a more ancient custom, and it is a method for group control.)

To check this, consider Liddell-Scott-Jones. (I sold my copy in highschool but fortunately there is internet.) We again see the wicker-basket, like we saw before that the offshoots in nezer were used to make wicker-baskets. Such weaving is like writing texts, too, of course. Thus we also have a midrash on teachers. But, suddenly, we also see John Cleese and Terry Jones jumping onto the scene with their cheesemakers.

ταρσ-ός, Att. ταρρός, : also with heterocl. pl. ταρσά, τά, Opp. C.3.470, Anacreont.9, APl.4.283 (Leont.), Nonn.D.1.270, al.: (τέρσομαι) :—frame of wicker-work, crate, flat basket, for drying cheeses on, ταρσοὶ μὲν τυρῶν βρῖθον Od.9.219, cf.Theoc.11.37: generally, basket, Ar.Nu.226.” (TLG Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, entries 105393-5)

The Life of Brian statement “Blessed are the cheesemakers” must be chance or destiny, but not deliberately related to this link to Tarsus. The statement is quoted above by Ehrman from the London conference, but it is not explained why the statement is so well-known in the circles of Biblical research. See Gary Goldberg at for a discussion.

  1. Historical Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
  2. A first listener hears “Blessed are the cheesemakers”.
  3. Mrs. Gregory asks, like a student: “Ahh, what’s so special about the cheesemakers ?”
  4. Gregory, like a professor: “Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”
  5. It shows how noise may turn into so-called wise views in peer reviewed publications.
  6. This likely is how the scene is appreciated in circles of research on Jesus.
  7. The link of Saul of Tarsus with a basket useful for cheesemaking surfaces just now for me. Ellis already gave the link to basket, but cheesemaking surfaces only for me by my check on LSJ. Gary Goldberg doesn’t mention the association. A Google didn’t show it yet either. It would seem to be unlikely that Biblical scholars already linked the Monty Python scene to an implicit relation of Jesus to Saul of Tarsus (the man of the cheesemaking basket) – with an implicit suggestion that Jesus blessed Paul’s change of final Christianity.
  8. I just mention this rather weird bit of chance, or destiny, for otherwise new stories would evolve.

Finally, there is Saul’s association with Moses. The statement that Saul would come from Tarsus is now less likely as a piece of history. Tarsus is rather a midrash on both his future Greek name and the rebirth like Jonah from the Whale or as Moses in his basket.

“9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. (…) 22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. 23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: 24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. 26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (KJV, Acts 9) (CEV is not much different)

In this passage, Damascus would stand for Qumran, or metaphorically for the teachings of the nazoraios (if he is located there). Saul is sent into the world as a Moses to preach the gospel. What more clues might we derive from these words ? Saul indeed seems to have an adventure like 007, but the NT is a complex midrash and no simple detective story. Who is Barnabas ? He hasn’t been decoded yet. When Barnabas knew about the vision and events in “Damascus”, then it is likely that he already was a companion. What about these terms: “disciples” (students, taliban), “night” (forces of darkness) and “wall” (fortress, tower) ? To make it historical: perhaps Qumran had a defence-tower without a gate, so that people used such a basket ? A question for archeology.

Nazoraios ~ crown of the high priest

Earlier I discovered that the Hebrew root nzr might also refer to the crown of the high priest. In terms of discovery this is modest. I meant to say: that this is not mentioned in the standard texts which translate nazoraios as the equally unexplained nazarene, or link in wrong manner to Nazareth instead. This other root nzr is mentioned in other books, that you have to look for however.

To my great surprise I saw this translation with crown also mentioned in Ellis’s King Jesus. Two points however: (1) While nzr as a noun refers to that priestly crown, it is not clear yet how we get to the adjective, and then the Greek translation nazoraios. (2) In Ellis’s book Jesus might be both king and priest, for real. Ellis does not link to Richard Carrier’s use of the Ascension of Isaiah for the mythical Jesus as a celestial high priest. Either might be true. It seems likelier that Jesus is a myth but there may also have been persons whose biographies have been abused to put on some flesh. (And we should beware of doing the same.)

What if Qumran was a boarding school with also a military section ?

To my other surprise, Ralph Ellis provides the hypothesis that Qumran was a boarding school with teachers comparable to the Knights Templar. Ellis provides some arguments: (1) smaller benches, (2) spelling errors in DSS, (3) smart distance from Jerusalem. I may add: the “baths” might actually be places to make paper (I read somewhere). Supposedly the Order has some secret teachings but these need not be gnostic. To join the Order one gives up all worldly possessions to the Order. The story about the rich young man and the camel is not an argument against richness but a plea to join the Order. Having a taliban mixture of a boarding school and a military branch would solve a major question about the link between the “Blessed are the peaceful” and the “I come with a sword”.

This suffices for now, and let us return to Thomas Brodie en literary analysis.

Literary analysis can give remarkable results

Literary analysis has been a major method in Biblical analysis for ages. Rene Salm has a timeline of authors who questioned the historical Jesus, starting with Spinoza. (On a tangent, see my comments on both the Crazy Centuries and the Dutch Spinoza Price.)

Dennis Macdonald (2000), Robert M. Price (2011) and Dominican friar Thomas Brodie (2012) got some amazing results. See an overview page at vridar on Brodie. I have read none of these books but am orienting myself via the reviews.

Macdonald 2000, Price 2011, Brodie 2012

Macdonald 2000, Price 2011, Brodie 2012, images not in proportional size

MacDonald is known for his controversial theories wherein the Homeric Epics are the foundation of various Christian works including the Gospel of Mark and the Acts of the Apostles. The methodology he pioneered is called Mimesis Criticism. If his theories are correct, and the earliest books of the New Testament were responses to the Homeric Epics, then “nearly everything written on [the] early Christian narrative is flawed.” According to him, modern biblical scholarship has failed to recognize the impact of Homeric Poetry.” (wikipedia)

See this review of Macdonald by Richard Carrier (with no date).

If I am right that the New Testament is based upon astrology and the zodiac, then the analysis that it is also based upon Homer causes that also Homer would be based upon astrology and the zodiac. And this might then also hold for Gilgamesh. This is a question for scholars of these texts.

The use of Homer and Plato may actually hold for Septuagint (LXX) as well. The Hebrew version of the OT may be derivative. When the NT is based upon LXX, then the influence of Greek thought arrives in two ways, both from 300 BC and 70 AD. (Ref 1 and Ref 2, clue “rabbits”.)

The cover text of Price (2011): “The Christ-Myth theory … “Worse Than Atheism”? New Testament scholar Robert M. Price, one of America’s leading authorities on the Bible, has assembled in his book evidence that shows that almost the entire “biography of Jesus” is a conscious reworking of earlier literature.It is one thing to say “There are no gods” or “Jesus was not a god, just a man.” It is quite another thing to say “Jesus of Nazareth never existed at all” or that “Christ is a myth.” But scholars have been saying exactly that since at least 1793 when the Enlightenment scholar Charles Dupuis began to publish his 13-volume Origine de Tous les Cultes, ou Religion Universelle, which elucidated the astral origins not only of Christianity but of other ancient religions as well. New Testament scholar Robert M. Price, one of America’s leading authorities on the Bible, here summarizes much of the scholarship that has led him and a growing number of modern scholars to conclude that Christ — a partial synonym for Jesus of Nazareth — is mythical. Most usefully, Price has assembled evidence that shows that almost the entire “biography of Jesus” has been created from Greek Old Testament stories and themes and even incorporates motifs from Homer, Euripides, and perhaps Aesop. Because readers will have a hard time “taking it on faith” that the Jesus biography is merely a reworking of previous material, broad swaths of “Old Testament” context are quoted in association with each New Testament equivalent, so readers can judge for themselves whether or not Dr. Price’s claim be true: the “Live of Christ” was not fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies; it was, rather, a conscious reworking of earlier literature.”

Thomas Brodie: “Christianity, insofar as it was a new religion, was founded by a school of writers, or more likely, by a religious community many of whose members were writers.” (185). (quoted by René Salm, part 3)

“The New Testament authors did not just lie back and, in a process of hearing or re-reading, simply let the Old Testament flow over them. Far more than readers, they are writers, holding sensitive instruments in their hands. They bring to the older text the full apparatus of their sophisticated wide-awake craft, and they generally bring that craft not to isolated quotes but to the texts in their entirety. They are proactive. Some texts they swallow whole, almost; other they distil; or reverse; or adapt in ways that are strange—so that the old cloth becomes a new thread. And having thus produced something new—the new thread—the active writer does not cease. In a highly complex process, the thread is interwoven with other threads to produce a new text, literally a new *textus*, ‘woven’ (Latin *textere*, ‘to weave’), and the pattern of the weaving can open up a new country. So when the twenty-seven countries are placed together—the twenty-seven books of the New Testament—a whole new continent lies open.” (134) (Thomas Brodie, quoted by René Salm, part 3)

Two mythicist critics of Brodie

Salm disagrees with Brodie on this point:

“many of the pseudo-gnostic logia and parables in Christian literature have no such [literary] antecedents, and yet they form an integral part of the teaching of “Jesus”—perhaps even the heart of his teaching.”
However, while we have no such antecedents, they may still have existed in some form before. PM. Elsewhere, in Salm’s text on (early gnosticism) that I consider quite relevant, Salm refers to e.g. the Ascension of Isaiah, that is crucial for Richard Carrier – but that I think might also be replaced by the Epistle to the Hebrews, that is part of the canon.

Salm 2008

Salm 2008, archeology only

Richard Carrier (2012) has this short review of Brodie. Some of his points are:

  1. “Others will complain of his theology, as he attempts to argue in Beyond that he can still be a good Catholic (and a member of the church hierarchy) even if he believes there was no historical Jesus. His attempt to make sense of that is nonsense, IMO (..)”.
    This fits the earlier discussion that the Christian Church adopted a Jesus in the flesh and rejected gnosticism as a heresy. Only flesh would generate the suffering that theology required for the release from Original Sin, in order to take away the power of the priests of Jerusalem. See this analysis.
  2. “The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. The premise is true (many have well proved it already, but I will marshal the best evidence in my book on this next year). But the conclusion does not follow.
    Agreed. Suppose that archeologists find a grave of a male with carbon dating around 30 AD, with an inscription something like “Here lies Jesus, deceased as INRI in 30 AD”, or phrased in terms which would fit for the period. The grave would date from before the period that the Gospels were written so that there is no interpolation. I would tend to regard this as proof that such a Jesus existed, even though it is possible that INRI would stand for something quite different. Thus, deductions on the NT, Josephus and DSS do not generate certainty. Results may be more probable given the evidence, but not certain.
  3. This quote must be longer: “Meanwhile, the false premise has to do with his treatment of the Pauline epistles. Really the only evidence for historicity there is is a scant few obscure passages in the Pauline epistles (e.g. references to “brothers of the Lord”), so they are really the most important evidence to deal with, and he deals with them almost not at all. In fact, his answer to them is to declare them all forgeries, and Paul himself a fiction. Brodie makes no clear case for this conclusion, and what arguments he does have are fallacious (e.g. the letters have certain features that forged letters sometimes share–except, so do authentic letters), and the position as a whole is too radical to be useful. Not that it hasn’t had serious defenders before this. But it constitutes a whole additional fringe thesis one must defend successfully first, before one can use it as a premise in an argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus. And I am skeptical that that can really be done (see my comments here and here). Certainly none of his arguments in Beyond are convincing on this subject.”
    This is partly incorrect. I haven’t read Brodie so I cannot check the assessment. I only look at the logic of the argument here. Simply assuming that Paul doesn’t exist is too simple of course, and I presume that it merely wasn’t the first priority of Brodie. It might be a good strategy to show that Paul doesn’t exist, for that would make it rather easy to prove that Jesus doesn’t exist either. (Some Epistles and Acts would disappear, and Luke as the Author of the Acts would be unreliable. Matthew has been shown absurd via the Voskuilen macabre parallel. Mark by itself is rather thin evidence for a religion, especially for an established Church based upon Paul who doesn’t exist.) However it apparently is more conventional to first get some clarity on the non-existence of Jesus and then work from there to Paul. But observe that Carrier in OHJ doesn’t present a theory about Paul. Carrier’s Paul would still be the Paul of the NT that he determines as unlikely. Something is fishy here. Which explains why my recent texts have looked at Paul. (But Carrier might agree that Paul is a Roman spy, and apologise to Atwill w.r.t. the deliberate meddling by the Romans.)
  4. “In fact, Brodie presents absolutely no theory of Christian origins at all. And that is perhaps this book’s most decisive failing. You simply cannot argue successfully for ahistoricity without testing a theory of Christian origins without Jesus against the best (i.e. most defensible and least speculative) theory of Christian origins with Jesus.”
    (1) This is not quite true. Brodie presents the origin: in literary creation. Surely, this explanation requires more flesh onto it: who did so, and why ? But the core has been given. (2) Indeed, giving a scenario that works is a difficult but rather fair criterion. Destruction of theories by other people is possible but you need alternative scenario’s. This is one of the reasons why the world should be so happy with authors who are now pushed to the fringe. This is also a reason why it isn’t too bad when traditional academics come up with different Jesuses, except that the requirements for their methodology are higher, for the very fact that they are academic researchers and have signed up to the creed of scientific integrity.
Carrier 2014

Carrier 2014

Praise and defence for Thomas Brodie

Wikipedia reports:

“(…) the committee advised that they judged Beyond the Quest to be ‘imprudent and dangerous’ (a phrase from the Order’s own legislation). Accepting this assessment, the Provincial continued the sanctions on Tom Brodie – that he withdraw fully from ministry and from all forms of teaching, writing, or making public statements.(…)

In July 2013, the theology magazine, Doctrine & Life, from Dominican Publications, published assessments of Tom Brodie’s book, from the pens of four internationally recognised scholars – biblical specialists Seán Freyne, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor and Gerard Norton, and theologian Fergus Kerr. (…)

On 29 August 2013, the Master, Fr Bruno Cadoré, appointed a committee to examine the book and report to him. This committee, made up of three professors from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, had the Master’s Assistant for the Intellectual Life, Fr Michael Mascari, as non-voting chairman.(…)

Following this meeting the committee formally advised the Master that the publication was ‘imprudent and dangerous’, the standard set out in the legislation of the Order, and recommended that the sanctions imposed on Thomas Brodie by the Province of Ireland were appropriate. In a letter dated 3 March 2014, Fr Bruno Cadoré concurred with the judgement of the committee and instructed that the sanctions already in place be maintained. Despite the restrictions placed on him, Tom Brodie remains a brother of the Irish Province, and the Province continues to care for him and provide for him. From the point of view of the Order, the matter is closed.” (Wikipedia on Brodie)

To his defence, I would say:

  • Brodie comes across like a subtler and stronger scholar for the literary approach than Carrier appears to value.
  • Studying the relation between the OT and NT is eminently sensible (see here).
  • Doing it with much error is inadvisable, see the example of Maurice Casey.
  • A main proposition is that a believer has nothing to fear and only to gain from new knowledge.
  • We should honour inspiring insights even though those may need time to test.
  • My impression is that Brodie deserves some grace since it is a pity to hear that he apparently didn’t feel free enough to speak his mind earlier.
  • My advice is that he receives assistance in getting a number of articles accepted in the journals.
  • Roman Catholic dogma is that Jesus is both God and man. When Brodie has come to see that Jesus did not exist as a historical man, then he runs against that dogma, even while he still has a docetic (not gnostic) view. (It would be Arianism that Jesus would only be man.) The purpose of the dogma was, as analysed here, to take away the theological supremacy of the priesthood from Jerusalem. If Brodie would agree with the latter (based upon acceptable divine revelation), then there might be an argument that the existence of Jesus in the flesh would not matter.
  • Religions need to treat their apostates better.  If there is purgatory in heaven, let there be one on earth. To evict Brodie from the Church without further pension or impose a ban of public silence are medieval methods. Those might be current Church Law but then need revision.

We have seen some surprising connections. Some more connections are put into appendices.

  1. Speaking about bedrock certainties causes an association with Simon Peter (rock or stone?). This appears to be a fruitful association, and Stephan Huller provides useful insights.
  2. We have benefitted from Rene Salm’s discussion of Brodie. But there are other aspects, such as on archeology, research ethics, and some items of critique.
  3. We saw some good points by Ralph Ellis. But he received severe but also over the top criticism by Aaron Adair. The praise and defence of Ellis has a different character than this for Brodie. It is important, but this text is already too long, and thus it is put in another appendix.

We have indicated some bedrock certainties for the development of an educational programme on Jesus. We also indicated the methodology of mainly using logic and literary analysis. Of course probability theory and other methods are interesting or on occasion relevant. But one cannot do everything at the same time, and it helps to have some priorities. Of course, I still need to make up my mind on Carrier’s suggestion to put more emphasis on probabilistic reasoning.

Application of logic and literary analysis already had some results. I will try to summarise these in a sequel.


Appendix 1. A big rock in Jerusalem and a small rock (stone) in Gerizim

The suggestion to look for bedrock certainties invites a short story on rocks.

Jerusalem has a big rock (Yahweh) and Gerizim has a small rock (Melchizedek ?) – perhaps rather a mere stone. The New Testament (NT) speaks about a stumbling block (sin) but perhaps of wood and not stone.

Stephan Huller suggests that Simon Peter / Petros (Greek) / Cephas (Aramaic) translates as stone rather than rock, with also a midrash onto kipha ~ to deny, which reminds of Simon Peter’s triple denial of knowing the captive Christ before the cok crows (three days before Jesus resurrects). Huller wonders also about another interpretation, see this discussion by Steve Caruso who investigates Galilean Aramaic for a profession.

Wikipedia legend: "Samaritans pray before the Holy Rock on Mount Gerizim" (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Wikipedia legend: “Samaritans pray before the Holy Rock on Mount Gerizim” (Source: Wikimedia commons)

There are the Dositheans, perhaps given in Josephus and/or the Bible as Theudas ~ Thaddaeus:

“Dositheos (occasionally also known as Nathanael, both meaning “gift of God”) was a Samaritan religious leader, founder of a Samaritan sect, often assumed to be a gnostic. He is reputed to have known John the Baptist, and been the teacher of Simon Magus. He therefore counts as one of the supposed founders of Mandaeanism.” (Wikipedia)

Remember the Babylonian occupation before Alexander, and link this up to Huller’s question why Gerizim gets such attention while it is a rather small hill.

“We began with an understanding that a Samaritan sect identified themselves with the Persian word ‘friends’ or dustan. (..)

It has long puzzled me how the Samaritans (and the Jews to a lesser extent) could have believed that mount Gerizim was a gateway to heaven given the fact that it doesn’t at all resemble an impressive mountain.  It is rather better described as a hill.  The idea that a ladder extended up to heaven from this point is explained by the Samaritans themselves by claiming that the top of Gerizim disappeared and went up to heaven!  This seems to imply that the religion adopted beliefs from somewhere else and adapted it to their rather unimpressive mound.

It would seem the Persian religion is the original source for this idea and specifically a mountain range that exists in north Iran on its border with the Caspian Sea.  It is here for instance that Arda Viraf is said to have ascended up to Garothmana [highest of three heavens] by means of a high mountain (… with a quote also about some Armageddon at the end of the world ….)” (Huller, June 6 2014)

Huller mentions the importance of astrology for current Samaritans, but also emphasizes the strict logic in their original beliefs, and perhaps these can be combined:

“I mean, there is a beauty about Judaism and Samaritanism that you never get with Christianity. It’s logical and rational. It’s like mathematics (albeit simple mathematics you might teach in kindergarten). The Samaritans fixate on two things – Moses and Mount Gerizim. The ‘one who is to come’ is going to be intimately connected with BOTH of these concepts or the Samaritans are going to exit the room as fast as a fat lady crossing the street for free ice cream samples.” (Stephan Huller, June 2 2010) (This reminds of the transfiguration with Moses and Elija but no David. Jesus’s clothes were white afterwards, like with the Samaritans, but wikipedia’s article on the mount (today) doesn’t mention Gerizim as a likely location.)

Huller distinguishes between Jesus and Christ. “Jesus wasn’t a Jewish messiah. All the stuff that we have learned to accept from Irenaeus of Rome has nothing to do with the original expectation of Christianity which would have developed naturally from Jewish sources. Jesus might have been representative of anointed high priest or a prophet but not THE messiah. How do I know this? Because unlike Christianity the Jewish religion develops as a kind of a kindergarten mathematical equation. It’s all laid out and it has been all laid out for thousands of years.” (Huller, idem) (Translate this as: See the Jewish criteria for THE messiah, bringing the rule of the Torah for all. Jesus would be a Jew, but not the messiah according to Judaic criteria. Judaism is logical in this, Christianity not. However, we saw that the Torah is inconsistent on Original Sin and Gnosticism. See also for the Epistle of the Hebrews how Jesus provides the argument that the Torah itself implies its abolition.)

Huller 2011

Huller 2011

Appendix 2. More on René Salm
Archeology and René Salm

Above I referred to archeology. We already rejected on linguistic grounds that nazoraios refers to Nazareth. Still, Nazareth might make for fuddled science, apart from the other integrity in archeology.

The bone of contention is that Nazareth may not have a community around 30 AD but became a community only after 70 AD, starting with fugitives from destroyed Jerusalem. Thus it would be historical nonsense that the Gospels allocate Jesus to Nazareth. SMOJ has a longer discussion on this. The Gospel writers after 70 AD might simply not be aware about the situation around 30 AD. It doesn’t seem to matter, given the other nonsense in the Gospels, but for archeologists it is their turf, and Rene Salm happens to find it quite interesting.

I refer to Salm’s website, who is no archeologist but reviews their work. Robert M. Price has this review of Salm’s 2008 book on the archeology of Nazareth. “And yet it is the entire absence of archaeological evidence that has wrought great devastation to the credibility of the Bible (not to mention the Koran!).” But Price is no archeologist either.

Neither is Skippy the Skeptic, who invoked Hell in order to discover who Salm is. Skippy’s readership – though hopefully not from Hell – recovered a review by professor Ken Dark of Reading (UK) who denounced Salm’s discussion of the reported archeological findings.

“To conclude: despite initial appearances, this is not a well-informed study and ignores much evidence and important published work of direct relevance. The basic premise is faulty, and Salm’s reasoning is often weak and shaped by his preconceptions. Overall, his central argument is archaeologically unsupportable.” (Ken Dark on Rene Salm’s book on the reported Archeological findings on Nazareth, quoted by “Joshua” 2009 on Skippy’s website)

A new round is Salm’s long 2013 article that debunks Ken Dark’s claimed expertise on Palestina of that period. Salm announces a sequel on his earlier book, to appear in Spring 2015.

“Dark also makes serious errors of a rudimentary nature, errors which reveal him to be embarrassingly unfamiliar with the subfield of Palestinian archaeology. Those errors, unfortunately, nullify his major conclusions regarding the Sisters of Nazareth convent site. They include false datings for kokh-type tombs in the Galilee, as well as the direct application of Judean chronologies to Galilean evidence, resulting in a chronology for Nazareth which is approximately two centuries too early.” (Salm on Dark, 2013, p2)

Readers like me, who know nothing about these matters, can only hope that other archeologists can confirm that Salm gives a correct report about their work. Professor Ken Dark will of course have a hard time doing so. While the Dominican Order has asked fr. Thomas Brodie to maintain public silence, the University of Reading should rather not do so for Ken Dark, since he has academic freedom & the obligation to explain his justifications and possible errors. L’enfer, ce sont les autres.

See also on archeology and Salm, 2012.

Salm on human folly

It seems fair to quote Salm, albeit a bit lengthy, on the need for scientific integrity at the academia, and for Biblical Studies in particular. His comparison of gradeschoolers is not intended as a put-down, but as a serious diagnosis of a state of mind, also called cognitive dissonance.

“In his book The End of Biblical Studies (2007) Hector Avalos writes that “attending a session of an annual meeting [of the SBL] is a study in irrelevance” (p. 308). It’s probably one of the milder statements in the book. In fact, scholars have only themselves to blame. For decades now they’ve not only busied themselves with minutiae in which no one else is interested but have (more egregiously) confined their vision to the safe parameters of Sunday School and synagogue—which is, after all, the historical vision of your average gradeschooler. I submit that this linkage between scholars and gradeschoolers should be kept in mind for, despite their demonstrated erudition, biblical scholars are amazingly timid when it comes to challenging the cultural delusions that presently pass for religious history. Biblical scholars examine minutiae with care but steadfastly refuse to connect the dots. It’s a curious situation, a little like going to the store and paying the money but not bringing home the bacon. Well, we all know the reason: aligning themselves with popular opinion and institutional power, scholars continue to steadfastly refuse to seriously consider anything which might shake the tent of tradition. I mean, their jobs are at stake.

Over half the U.S. teaching posts in biblical studies are in confessional institutions of higher learning (Avalos:316). Since there are not many teaching posts to begin with, that leaves very few positions where any serious consideration of non-traditional views could be expected. But, of course, even in public institutions there is enormous pressure to toe the traditional line and not to make waves, if only because tenure for religious studies professors in public institutions is declining precipitously and part-time employment is greatly increasing. I commiserate. Biblical Studies profs have families to feed, papers to grade, and all those minutiae to examine—besides vacations in Disneyland to plan and the unceasing pressure of publishing. Life is tough—except perhaps during the summer, and when on sabbatical in Oxford, and when attending all those conferences paid for by the boss…

Where does that leave an idea like “Jesus didn’t exist”? Mercy! Is there any idea better calculated to get religious studies professors running for the exits? With Jews the situation is similar—simply substitute “David” for “Jesus” in the above question and watch the room empty of academics.

(..) “Faith-inspired research” is an oxymoron. What passes for religious research in confessional settings across the U.S. is not research but apologetics. Biblical studies in the U.S. have historically not been “research” so much as a defense of the tradition against the continuing progress of science. At heart, biblical studies as currently conducted are not science but obstructionism. They are a quest for legitimacy. In sum, the intermingling of Christian (and Jewish) faith-based perspectives within the field of religious studies is a powerful reason why, year after year, those studies don’t “get anywhere” despite the frenetic activity of thousands of scholars. Individuals, however, are only partially to blame. As mentioned above, the hands of scholars are quite tied by what they are permitted to “find” and what is “forbidden.” Hence the “intellectual blockade” noted above.” (Rene Salm, website statement 2012)

Some points of critique

There are some points or critique w.r.t. Salm’s analyses, but these points should not distract from the overall relevance.

(1) Check this discussion of Jesus and his potential Samaritan homeland – that would imply that it are interpolations that Jesus would belong to Galilee or Judea. I would rather see a stricter separation between the myth and the cults and their leaders, and critiques by academics.

(2) Discussing nazoraios as “guardian”, and comparing with Buddhism, Salm states: “Over and over, in various ways, Jesus teaches the Golden Rule: as you do to others, so it will be done to you (Mt 7:12)”. However: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is something what a lawmaker might impose externally, while it is a psychological inversion to arrive at the internal moral rule: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18, cited in the Golden Rule lemma in wikipedia).

(3) Thus, given Leviticus, the difference between the OT and NT is not as large as sometimes suggested. The main difference lies in the objective of the Christian Church to take away the power from the priesthood in Jerusalem.

See Salm’s other website for other work by him, and here on the distinction between OT and “offshoot” NT.

(4) While Jew (Judah) and Hebrew (other tribes) crucially differ for the political rule by the king from David and the priest from Zadok, Salm is at risk of confusion: “Yet, I would venture a working definition: “A Jew is someone of Hebrew stock for whom the Torah is the revealed word of God, and for whom the Hebrews are Yahweh’s ‘chosen people.’” This definition is broad enough to encompass heterodox and orthodox Judaisms—it even includes the Samaritans with their unique Pentateuch.”

(5) With the following quote I would tend to agree. Earlier, we diagnosed that the Torah is inconsistent. It is such a big book, how can it not be ? However, it contains gnosticism while this is denied by its usual teachers. Salm uses the word “dilemma”. However, a dilemma is only such, when it is explicitly presented as such. Otherwise it is a plain (hidden) inconsistency. Writers of religious texts gloss over these problems, with the strategy to lure you along.

“A good case can also be made that the prophet was a gnostic. The Jesus of the gospels taught “secret meaning” (Th 1; Mk 4:11; Mt 13:35), a secret Father (Mt 6:6), and a kingdom which is “not of this world” (Jn 18:36)… Now, gnosticism has always been outside the pale of Judaism. In rabbinic eyes the gnostic is arrogant, while in Jewish scripture we often read how he who relies on his own intellect and effort unaided by Yahweh is deluded. At the same time, Judaism values wisdom and the search for understanding. Hence, a great dilemma has ever existed in the religion: how to encourage the seeking of understanding while, at the same time, maintaining the requisite distance between man and the divine. After all, Yahweh is worthy of worship only if he is transcendent.” (Salm, rebel against Judaims)

Salm separates Paul from Gnosticism. He can do this, when he defines Paul as the gospel to the goy and the replacement of the Law by a belief in Christ. But if Paul ~ Simon Magus, then the authentic Paul would really be gnostic, and then the Paul, whom Salm is talking about, exists only as an interpolated, redacted, edited version created later by the Church, i.e. someone else.

“Brodie is only half-right: he concludes that Christianity was produced out of normative Jewish elements, a thesis which obtains for the Pauline kerygma (and the Great Church based upon it) but not for gnosticism which, in fact, lies at the heart of pre-Pauline Christianity (“Nazoreanism”).” (Salm, idem)

Salm also cites Friedlander, suggesting that gnosticism might relate to asceticsm (the Cynics of antiquity). However, this would not apply when Ralph Ellis is right on the suggestion that Qumran would be a boarding school with a Knights Templar type of brotherhood.

“Friedlander notes the radically anti-social aspects of Jesus’ teaching: “This is the refrain which continually recurs. A man must surrender all his possessions to follow Jesus (Mt 19: 21); he must even renounce the closest family ties. This is no mere figurative expression. A man, in order to become a disciple, must renounce father and mother, wife and children (Mt 10:37; Lk 14: 26)… All this and much more of Jesus’ ascetic teaching is foreign to Jewish religious thought and practice. (175)” “ (Salm, idem)

Salm 2008

Salm 2008, archeology only

Appendix 3. Praise and defence for Ralph Ellis. Why Aaron Adair should apologise
Praise with caveat

I have read a bit in Ralph Ellis, King Jesus (2008), and I find much to praise, with the obvious caveat:

  • He writes very accessible.
  • He asks good questions – like concerning the link between Josephus and Paul. In literary analysis we see Jesus ~ Yahweh and Paul ~ Moses. Convention has that Paul existed, critique has that Paul has been created by the authors of Acts, Luke and his Epistles while using Josephus for data, and Ellis wonders with reason whether Paul actually was Josephus. The latter might be wrong but it is a question that needs to be tested.
  • He comes up with pieces of data that I don’t see with scholars – linking nazoraios to crown, linking Paul’s Tarsus to Moses’s basket  and diagnosing Qumran as a boarding school where pupils were were taught and the teachers adhered to a code like the Knights Templar.
  • He creates wider views – and indeed Vespasian had strong links with Britain. But if the change in astronomical precession to the astrological sign of pisces was known universally – generating the midrash of fishermen – then this might also be known independently by Romans in Britain. The association of Osiris ~ Asar ~ Arthur is intriguing (with a round table with 12 knights) but the alphabet is flexible. Of course, early writers would also have used their creativity. A historian must shut up when he or she has nothing to tell, so there is a temptation to keep on telling something.
  • With the caveat: Who am I to judge ? I am no historian or linguist (but will also be silent if I have nothing to tell).
Why Aaron Adair should apologise

I scanned a discussion by Aaron Adair on Ellis’s other book Jesus, King of Edessa (2013) on Ellis’s Jesus ~ Izates suggestion. I am shocked about the verbal lashing by Adair. There is absolutely no reason for this. I didn’t read this particular book, and indeed only scanned Adair’s criticism. Given what I read on King Jesus it seems safe to conclude that Ellis cannot be 100% wrong. Perhaps overall Ellis is 99% wrong, but then 1% could be useful. This may be a better score than the Churches, or the Biblical scholars who pursued the logically absurd Q-hypothesis. Either Adair lashes out to those authors in the same fashion or he should apologise to Ellis. In his reply, Ellis also pointed to Tom Verenna’s use of the Gospels as a source for history. We should suppose that Adair also lashes out to Verenna’s confusion in this, or apologises to Ellis. Overall, the same appeal to good manners and awareness of creativity holds as I already said w.r.t. Richard Carrier’s abuse of language w.r.t. Joseph Atwill. Of course I am disgusted about distortion too. In that case it should suffice to select a core issue, and another author might be called in to resolve the issue. In that case, I would be more inclined to read the argument and do more than a first scan.

Adair 2013

Adair 2013

Paul = Flavius Josephus ?

What about testing whether Paul is Flavius Josephus (FJ) ? Complex interpolations aside, this would only hold if the latter would regard circumcision and other Torah laws as mere options but no requirement. I don’t know much about FJ – though, by now, I read quite a bit of & about him.

One question for example is whether FJ’s marriages and children show something about his religious views. Athalya Brenner (ed), Are We Amused?: Humour About Women In the Biblical World, p104-106 discusses some points, also referring to Biblical scenes in Dutch paintings of the Golden Age. This book however doesn’t seem to generate data but only questions that can be asked when you think about humour and women and the Bible and FJ. His first wife seems to have died in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the second was a captive woman whom he married for Vespasian but later rejected for religious reasons, and subsequently he had two Jewish wives, with sons whose names reflect an allegiance to the Flavian-Herodians. The son “Hyrcanus” might refer to Jewish independence by John Hyrcanus but also to FJ’s benefactor at that period. The “Simonides” could refer in FJ’s lineage. The “Justus” is ambiguously Roman or Jewish.

“Vespasian arranged for the widower Josephus to marry a captured Jewish woman, who ultimately left him. About 71, Josephus married an Alexandrian Jewish woman as his third wife. They had three sons, of whom only Flavius Hyrcanus survived childhood. Josephus later divorced his third wife. Around 75, he married as his fourth wife, a Greek Jewish woman from Crete, who was a member of a distinguished family. They had a happy married life and two sons Flavius Justus and Flavius Simonides Agrippa.” (Wikipedia on FJ)

These few  data are ambiguous. FJ could still be an observing Sadducee priest who collaborated with the Romans given their obvious power. There is no indication that he would go as far as Paul, either an authentic gnostic Simon Magus (if he existed) or the domesticated version in the NT. Others may have more data.

Ellis 2008

Ellis 2008

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