H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 2)

Highlights of this post: • the New Testament must be dated to the second century CE • Epiphanius identifies the pre-Christian Jessaeans with Philo’s Therapeutae, and the Therapeutae with early Christians • According to Epiphanius, some Jewish pre-Christians “set themselves ablaze” • Epiphanius shows that the Nazoraeans were in some way related to Indian monks The later (Jesus mythicist) chronology In these posts we are immersed in developments during the first century CE. This is a different world. Apparently there are “venerators of Joshua/Jesus” (a Semitic name roughly meaning “Y[ahweh] is Salvation,” BDB 221)—as Dr. Detering will claim later in his article. However, there were not yet “Christians” in the accepted sense of that word (see below). Both Detering and myself agree that in … Continue reading

H. Detering, “The Gnostic Meaning of the Exodus”—A commentary (Pt. 1)

     The prevailing picture of Christian origins does need to be revised… All New Testament scholars are aware of textual material and historical data that cannot easily be reconciled… Some scholars are also aware that the literary and historical bases for the traditional reconstruction are very, very shaky. The picture itself has not yet budged, however, and will not budge until alternative explanations for the (sometimes very curious) data available are taken up for forthright discussion and evaluation.     —Burton Mack, “All the Extra Jesuses” (Semeia 49 [1990], pp. 169–70.) Some background The above words of Burton Mack are as applicable today as when he wrote them almost thirty years ago. We do need a thorough revision of Christian origins, for the traditional … Continue reading

“Jesus has a Nazareth problem” (interview transcript)—Pt. 3

The Nazarene is “the enlightened one” (See also here.) René: …Everything is showing that Marcion’s was in fact the first gospel and that Capernaum was the original hometown of Jesus.      The reason “Nazareth” was invented—that would be by Matthew, now, and taken up by Luke—is to change “the Nazarene,” because “Nazarene” was objectionable to the Catholic Church. “Nazarene” had some strong religious and theological meanings at the time, and it would be very valuable if scholarship looked seriously at this question, because this brings us to the heart of the issue: What does “Nazarene” mean? René: Jesus in the earliest gospels is called “Jesus the Nazarene.” But nobody seems to know what that meant. Now, “Nazarene” means the enlightened person, … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 3

Chp. 5: Presenting Jesus as the Crucified One      Dykstra begins this chapter with an important observation: “Another theme unique to Paul is his emphasis on the cross, or more specifically on the crucified Christ over the resurrected Christ” (p. 93). The terminology “crucified Christ” vs. “resurrected Christ” mirrors the two great models of salvation fighting one another for hegemony in the first century: salvation through faith (the “cross”) vs. salvation through gnosis (spiritual “resurrection”). In Pauline thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through faith in his atoning death on the physical cross. In gnostic thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through the acquisition of spiritual gnosis. These are two different religions and two different Jesuses—one material, one spiritual. Paul’s disputes with both … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 8

Early Buddhist influence on the West It is hardly acknowledged by Christian scholarship that Buddhism potentially exercised considerable influence in the Western world as early as the third century BCE. In the middle of that century, Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE)—the Mauryan “Emperor of Emperors” who conquered most of the Indian subcontinent—sent a Buddhist missionary contingent to Alexandria at the official request of the curious and enterprising emperor Ptolemy II of Egypt (r. 283-246 BCE)—the same emperor who founded the great Library of Alexandria (eventually destroyed, probably by Christians in 391 or 415 CE).   Both Ashoka and Ptolemy II were extraordinary figures. After a particularly bloody victory against the Kalingas, Ashoka Maurya converted to Buddhism and became a pacifist. Surrounded … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 7

We have seen that the spirituality which preceded and led up to Christianity (what I call “Natsarene” spirituality) was marked by two broad characteristics—gnosticism and encratism. The former has reference to the goal of finding gnosis. The latter characterizes the way to the goal: through continence and a general repudiation of pleasure. The gnostic considered that no one can “serve two masters,” and recognized that a fundamental decision occurs in life, one between pleasure and understanding. We have looked at the Parable of the Ten Maidens (Mt 25:1-14), touched upon Secret Mark, and noted the broad popularity of encratism in early Christianity, evident in the non-canonical Acts of the Apostles and in many gnostic writings from the Nag Hammadi Library. … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 3

The background In the first two posts in this series I argued that a human prophet lay at the root of the Christian religion—certainly not ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ This prophet taught a rigorous code of personal fulfillment out of step with both Hellenism and Judaism, yet conforming in fundamental ways with the uncompromising ethics and search for enlightenment (gnosis) found in Buddhism. The proof of these statements lies in a body of sayings preserved in the Christian scriptures themselves. Those sayings—which I have numbered at about 150—comprise a coherent body of material in tension with both the Jewish worship of Yahweh and with the Hellenist ethos of man’s domination over the material world. These “core” sayings are inward-looking and socially … Continue reading

The Natsarene (“Nazarene”) Religion – Pt. 2

A human prophet In the first post of this series I surmised that if three criteria are applied to the sayings in Christian scripture, then the contours of a revolutionary teaching emerge. The three criteria are dissimilarity, coherence, and impracticality. For various reasons as discussed below, these criteria show that the teaching could not have been “invented” but derived from a historical figure. It was also noted that most of the material in the canonical gospels is, in fact, invented. How then, can we know which sayings attributed to “Jesus” are authentic? Precisely on the basis of the three above-mentioned criteria. Let me explain… When it comes to the Jesus tradition, there are numerous “sayings” (parables and aphorisms) which scholars … Continue reading

My journey as a “spiritual atheist”—Pt. 2

Reason from the East My doubts regarding the existence of god received surprising validation about this time through the discovery of Buddhism. While some call Buddhism a religion, others look upon it as a philosophy. Buddhism is atheist and teaches that each person can (and should) find his or her own answers through a combination of effort and reason. I liked Buddhism’s self-reliance, its non-corporatism, and its emphasis on ethics and understanding. It resonated with my desire to live a moral life while searching for ultimate answers. In the 1980s I returned to Oregon and worked for some years at the State Psychiatric Hospital. The work was dangerous and I eventually transferred to a private hospital where admissions were on … Continue reading