“A Shift in Time” (L. Einhorn)—Book review, Pt. 2

A Shift in Time: How Historical Documents Reveal the Surprising Truth About Jesus
by Lena Einhorn

(New York: Yucca Publishing, 2016)
Review by Hermann Detering
translated from the German by René Salm

In the foregoing paragraphs I necessarily simplified Einhorn’s argument and left out much in her book that supports her hypothesis. The many charts and tables that graphically illustrate and summarize her points are particularly successful and greatly strengthen the book’s conclusions. [A list of illustrations following the table of contents would have made the charts even more useful.—R.S.]

Despite the above, however, I find myself not entirely convinced by Einhorn’s solution. The focus of this study is too narrowly fixed upon Josephus. Left untreated are many currents that contributed to the rise of Christianity: the mystery religions, gnosticism, the Kyrios-cult, cynicism, Platonism, the logos philosophy, and so on. The reader misses a more encompassing viewpoint that would link the results of this study with wider New Testament scholarship. It is difficult to envision the historical development of a Christianity that began as a militant messianic sect and evolved into the early Catholic Church of the second century. Where in the New Testament are the echoes of the seditious founder of Christianity to be found? What meaning did Jesus’ resurrection have for those early Christian rebels? Einhorn devotes a whole chapter to “The Raising of the Dead” in the New Testament without mentioning what is arguably the central element of the entire religion: the resurrection of Jesus himself.

A further problem involves the question of how Einhorn’s theory of Christian beginnings relates to the apostle Paul. The traditional Pauline chronology leaves little room for a “time shift” as proposed here—in fact, it categorically contradicts it. Therefore Einhorn is at pains to elaborate a new and entirely unique Pauline chronology (pp. 172–79). However—without entering into particulars here—I doubt that her chronology can pass muster with New Testament scholars. But this may be irrelevant, because in my opinion the Pauline epistles are in all likelihood pseudepigraphical compositions of the second century. Yet, even a radical position regarding Paul’s chronology does not dismiss the need to engage with other major issues relevant to the apostle. To pose only one question here: How do Pauline christology and soteriology relate to the conception of an anti-Roman, militant rebel-messiah whom the Christian fellowship venerated at an early time?

Paul before the Roman procurator Porcius Festus."I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor" (Acts 25:8).

Paul before the Roman procurator Festus.
“I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor”
(Acts 25:8).

With recourse to Gal 1:14, Einhorn attempts to interpret Paul as a zealot. But neither Acts nor the epistles yields the least sign that the apostle was engaged in seditious activities. [If sedition were an accusation against Paul, it surely would have surfaced in Acts 22–26 where Paul’s arraignment is described in detail. Paul is consistently accused of religious apostasy, not political sedition (cp. Acts 24:5–6 and 26:30–32). This is independent of any possible “pre-Christian” zealotry on Paul’s part (Einhorn 72 and her note 21).—R.S.] One might also ask: how likely is it that the Roman citizen Paul participated in a rebellion against Rome?

As regards the many identifications that Einhorn suggests between figures in the New Testament and persons in the writings of Josephus, I note here that other interpretations are eminently possible. For example, in her book the anti-Roman messianic pretender Menahem is identified as Simon Peter (p. 159). However, the figure of Menahem could alternately have influenced the depiction of Jesus in the gospels: Menahem’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, the opposition of the priesthood, the contrasting cries of the people of “Hosanna” and “crucify him” within the space of a few days, the flight of associates/disciples, the final torture and the excruciating death (Wars 2.17.8–9)—these all recall Jesus’ passion week. According to an ancient rabbinic source, the messianic pretender Menahem was born in Bethlehem and his fate linked to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Hugo Gressmann, in 1922, pointed out that the Menahem tradition may well have influenced the gospel figure of Jesus. Regarding the saying that Jesus would raise up the temple again in three days (Mk 14:58; 15:29; Jn 2:19), Gressmann noted that it could “only have entered the gospel tradition after the destruction of Jerusalem” and thus could have been transferred from Menahem to Jesus (discussion here, p. 6). The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem could be similarly viewed.

The death of James the Just. The martyrdom of James was transferred to the mythical Stephen.

The death of James the Just.
The martyrdom of James was transferred to the mythical Stephen.

The protomartyr Stephen (Einhorn 63–72) presents a unique problem. Unlike Einhorn (p. 65) I find it very difficult to identify the Stephen of Josephus (Wars 2.12.2) with a Roman soldier.

Though scholars usually consider the martyrdom of Stephen as the model for the martyrdom of James in the Pseudoclementines, the historian H.–J. Schoeps took the opposite view. He postulated that the Pseudoclementine account was earlier. Proceeding from the indisputable facts that the early Christian tradition—with the exception of Luke—is notably silent regarding the church deacon Stephen and, instead, places James and his martyrdom center stage, Schoeps arrived at the conclusion that the Lucan account was pure fiction. Luke tendentiously wanted to weaken the unwholesome image of Saul/Paul as persecutor of the early Christian community and of its leader, James. So, the evangelist invented the story of Stephen, using elements from the martyrdom of James. Thus he was able not only to sanitize the image of Saul/Paul, but also to transfer the anti-cultic, anti-temple strain from the early James faction onto the leader of the Hellenist faction, Stephen.

I have concluded, along with H.–J. Schoeps, that the alleged Hellenist deacon Stephen never even existed.

Despite the above reservations, I do not dispute that some of the parallels Einhorn draws between Josephus and the New Testament have a certain plausibility. Nevertheless, I cannot ascribe to her hypothesis of a “time shift” in the form presented. The reason ultimately is that Einhorn believes she must adhere to the historicity of the Christian messiah. This forces her to assert identities that are hardly clear, much less proven. Persuasive evidence that the New Testament messiah is none other than the Egyptian messianic pretender mentioned by Josephus is simply not possible given the sparse source material. Lacking additional sources, such theses can never be verified. In my opinion, cleaving to the historicity of Jesus is a premise that may help explain the sometimes striking parallels and anachronisms, but that premise itself is not necessary.

The fact that Einhorn has not proven anything does not diminish her book. The explanation for the striking parallels between the New Testament and Josephus must be sought elsewhere. For me, that “elsewhere” becomes apparent when one jettisons the presupposition of a historical existence for Jesus. Doing so allows one to appreciate that Jesus is in all probability a late literary construct, the product of various messianic and gnostic streams of tradition that have flowed “synthetically into one.”

417-Gxqo+qL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Elsewhere I have described how a savior entity, conceived in purely mythological terms, underwent a process of “historization.” In the eyes of its devotees, the entity was originally indistinguishable from other divinities familiar to the mystery religions, divinities that may well have preceded it. Through mingling with historical—in fact, pseudo-historical—elements, the author of the Gospel of Mark (or perhaps his predecessor) was one of the first to meet his community’s demands for a more concrete divinity, this presumably in Rome in the second century. Hence the creation of a savior in history, a savior combining traits of various messianic contenders and prophets mentioned by Josephus (for example, the preacher of destruction Jesus ben Ananias). This is not the art of the historian but of the storyteller, for though it begins with historical events it uses them for fictional and literary ends. In his book Deconstructing Jesus, Robert Price gives various telling examples of how this method was utilized, and how a number of building blocks was combined into the new structure.

In a sense, then, Lena Einhorn’s postulated “time shift” rests on a kernel of truth. It needs to be understood, however, not as the shifting of a particular person of history, or of the shifting of a particular nexus of events from one epoch to another. Rather, the evangelists have fused mythological elements together with the biographies of various persons of history, placing the resultant actors in a chronological and geographical setting that best served their purposes. The time displacement employed by the storytellers is of a different nature than that which Einhorn postulates.

“A Shift in Time” nonetheless serves decidedly useful purposes for Jesus mythicists. It makes possible an examination of the methods the evangelists used in their literary invention. It also facilitates an examination of the nature of some of the building blocks which they used as inspiration in the formation of their savior, Jesus. It is laudable, in any case, that Einhorn repeatedly reminds the reader of the hypothetical nature of her theses, which are—as is so much in this domain—provocative incentives for further thought. As Luther admitted: “We are beggars; this is true.”



“A Shift in Time” (L. Einhorn)—Book review, Pt. 2 — 8 Comments

  1. Strange that Hermann Detering did not cite Acts 21,37-38:
    “As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?” “Do you speak Greek?” he replied. Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?””
    Paul and the Egyptian were contemporaries and, as I continue in my work “KRST – Jesus a solar myth”: “This step is, to say the least, strange. Why does the tribune associate Paul with the Egyptian? His question is lost in obscurity. The reasons may be hidden in some other passage deleted by censors, and Paul could have some link with the Egyptian, otherwise we cannot understand why Luke wanted to remember this episode.
    This Egyptian prophet, from the Mount of Olives, promised the collapse of the walls of Jerusalem because the walls protected the temple of Judaism, and this collapse would not have occurred by physical force or through a miracle, but through the power of his new religion.
    This same concept, as we are told by the evangelists, was expressed by Jesus and was used to accuse him before Pilate:
    Mk 14,58: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”
    Mt 26,61: ““This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’””
    The circumstances in which Jesus said this sentence are not reported but there evidence from Josephus that it has been expressed on the Mount of Olives exactly as reported by the Egyptian. The difference is that the Egyptian is saved but Jesus in fiction is arrested.
    The comparison of the quote from AJ with these of Mk and Mt is extremely significant, it cannot be considered a coincidence though dating is misleading. It is also extremely unlikely that the idea of the symbolic demolition of the temple may have come from Jesus and simultaneously from any other styled prophet. In comparing the two citations we must keep in mind that they come from two different sources that had different intentions. Certainly those who wrote or edited Mark had to file the statement and also find an excuse to present the prophecy.”

    • I generally agree with you, and find the Acts 21:37-38 passage that you bring up to be in conflict with other passages in Acts–showing a pastiche nature to the work. The fact that the evangelists and Josephus both knew the prophet who would “collapse the walls of Jerusalem” suggests merely that the evangelists relied on Josephus’ account of the Egyptian (as everyone here seems to agree). So, I don’t see what is “extremely significant” about it. “Destroying the temple”, of course, has very broad metaphorical meaning. I do think the significance was metaphorical in the beginning–but the metaphorical meaning seems to have been lost on Josephus. I also see some relation between the Egyptian and “Jesus.” The Egypt connection is also strongly linked to the Jannean-era Yeshu ha-Notsri, as I describe in the final chapter of NazarethGate.–René

      • I simply note that three Christian sources (Luke, Mark and Matthew) agree that something happened on the Mount of Olives. Yes, perhaps that Mount will have been the stage for many other historical episodes, but if this Egyptian had been irrelevant to the Christian story, why, in addition to using it for the fable of the process, it is also taken up in Acts in an episode clearly mutilated?
        Also, if the shift forward of 20 years proposed by Lena Einhorn finds a foundation (in fact, is based on a number of other reliefs) I can also believe that Josephus misinterpreted the episode, exchanging a preacher for a subversive (besides Josephus in his two works very often proves to be a not reliable historian).
        Furthermore we find the Egyptian in other references (T. Herford, in ‘Christianity in the Talmud’, in Origen ‘Contra Celsum’) and supported also by Morton Smith: ‘Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God?’.

      • The “Egyptian” connection is certainly seminal. That it occurs in Josephus is astonishing and shows that the Jewish historian had (garbled) information on a militant Christian martyr, perhaps a mid-I CE follower of the prophet I identify as Yeshu. Josephus does not write of Jesus, nor of the Paul we know. He is writing of someone else. But, the thing is, that “someone” may well have been a proto-Christian.
        The Mt. of Olives is a special and magical place in early (possibly pre-canonical?) Christian traditions. If you do a word search for “olives” in Budge’s “Coptic Apocrypha from Upper Egypt,” you will see (p. ix) that it is there that the spirit Jesus confers “the third heaven” on John the Baptist. At p. 350, BTW, John is not excelled in heaven (contrary to Mt. 11:11b). The disciples gather on the Mt. of Olives for the Jesus-spirit to teach them (p. 241), and there Jesus gives the apostolic commission (p. 344). This whole line of investigation really needs to be explored–probably for the first time, actually, since the apocrypha figure so little in normative Christian scholarship. Thanks for your comment!–RS

    • Acts 21 is important; where some ask whether Paul is the infamous Egyptian. I think that many questions, interrogations of religious figures in the New Testament, are really metaphors or symbols for early bible reactors, compilers,trying to assemble the many conflicting stories, about various savior figures. To come up with, assimilate them into, an “ordered account” of just one Jesus, or Paul, etc.

      What we see here are the redactors, editors, compilers, conflating many various heroes. Trying and failing to separate the sheep from the goats.

  2. Rebels relate to resurrection, in that they know that if they die in the holy war, their cause will live on, be born again, in those who come after them.

  3. Paul didn’t really come out of a Revolutionary Jesus tradition. Not as much as the clerical mindset that wanted to suppress that kind of rebellious violence. To stress obedience. Just as a Roman sympathizer might.

    So Paul focused on, or optimistically helped emphasize, any more passive, obedient sides to the Jesus character.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *