A New Account—Pt. 2b: The arrival

As we have read in the preceding post, in order to facilitate trade with the Far East and points south, the Macedonian Pharaoh Ptolemy Philadelphus laboriously reactivated the old canal system linking Lake Mareotis at Alexandria with the Nile River, and the river in turn with the Red Sea. This immense engineering and construction project occupied Ptolemy for years. When the new Egyptian canal system was finally complete, towards the middle of the third century BCE, Ptolemy probably had a huge celebration, a Ptolemaion to end all Ptolemaiai, a three-day celebration of the new canal. And the crowning event of that incomparable celebration were very special gifts from the great Emperor Ashoka of faraway India. In fact, we know from … Continue reading

A New Account—Pt. 2: A look back to c. 250 BCE

The aristocratic young Pharisee—Yeshu ha-Notsri to the later Rabbinical scholars—stood on firm religious shoulders, on hallowed tradition already ordered, analyzed, codified, and even memorized. The problem for him and for his early followers was that the tradition upon which Yeshu stood was emphatically not the tradition of his forefathers. It was, simply put, not the Mosaic tradition so foundational to the chauvinistic and exclusive Jewish religion, to its culture, and to its self-identity. Not to Yahweh, not to Moses, not even to Jewish scripture—after his conversion to Buddhism Yeshu was pointing to a very different source of salvation. The Buddhists call that source nirvana (literally “extinguishing”), or “enlightenment.” In the West, this is known as gnosis. As mentioned before, the … Continue reading

A New Account of Christian Origins—Pt. 1: General considerations

The preceding series of posts, “Yeshu ha-Notsri as the founder of Christianity,” is now complete. Those fifteen posts serve as an introduction to a new account of Christian origins presented on this website. The series began with an examination of the figure Yeshu ha-Notsri in the Talmud, an obscure figure that Christians have long considered anomalous and quite curious. We investigated what exactly the Talmud has to say about Yeshu, brought those clues together, and constructed a preliminary biography of the prophet. Yeshu lived in the early first century BCE. He was a Pharisee, a protegé of the leading Pharisee in Judaism, Joshua ben Perachiah. Joshua and Yeshu (together no doubt with other aristocratic Jews, their families, and servants) fled … Continue reading

Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity–Pt. 11: Excommunication and aftermath

In 76 BCE Yeshu ha-Notsri was about twenty-four years old. Still officially a Pharisee in exile, he had been living in Alexandria, Egypt since boyhood. However, in that year the political situation in Israel altered and the balance of power radically shifted. The rabidly anti-pharisaic King Janneus died, and his wife Salome Alexandra ascended to the throne of Israel. She was as pro-Pharisee as her husband had been anti-Pharisee, doubtless because her own brother, Simeon ben Shetach, was a leading Pharisee and would himself become head (nasi) of the Sanhedrin after Perachiah. In all, later rabbinical writings romanticized the short reign of Alexandra (76–67 BCE) as the glory days of the Pharisees. With Salome’s ascendancy to the throne, suddenly the … Continue reading

Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity–Pt. 8: Buddhism in Alexandria

The cosmopolitan metropolis Unless he was living under a rock, Yeshu would certainly have encountered Buddhism in Alexandria. We know that the Indian emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to the cosmopolitan city about 250 BCE (Rock Edict 13), this in response to a request from the curious and extravagant Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus. No doubt the Indian missionaries had copies of Buddhist sutras for the Alexandria library, which Philadelphus founded. Legend has it that Philadephus allowed no ship to dock at the harbor of Alexandria unless its cargo included new acquisitions for the library. The Alexandria library, however, was only part of the even more consequential Museion which, analogous to a modern university, brought together some of the best scholars … Continue reading

Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity–Pt. 7: Not of the world

Talmudic records relate, as we have seen, that the nasi Joshua ben Perachiah excommunicated Yeshu ha-Notsri (literally, “Jesus the Nazarene”) on their way back from exile in Alexandria, Egypt, probably in 76 BCE, the year that the anti-Pharisee King Janneus died and his pro-Pharisee wife Salome Alexandra ascended to the throne. If we combine Ibn Daud’s chronology with what we learn from Talmudic passages, it appears that Yeshu was twenty-four years old at the time. Yeshu would not have been able to return to Israel with impunity. After all, excommunication is not merely a ban from pharisaism—it is the final, complete, and irrevocable expulsion from Judaism. For a young man raised in the entourage of the Sanhedrin (his association with … Continue reading

Essenism and Buddhism–Pt. 3

By M. André Dupont-Sommer [In: Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles- Lettres, 124e année, N. 4, 1980. pp. 698-715.] Abridged and translated from the French by René Salm For footnotes, please see the original PDF. Part 3 (Final) [P. 711. M. Dupont-Sommer writes:] As for the Essenes of Palestine, I wish to emphasize—and this with the greatest force—that the community’s structure clearly derived from that of Buddhism. Philo, the Jewish philosopher, characterizes that structure as follows: In the first place, then, there is no one who has a house so absolutely his own private property that it does not in some sense also belong to every one. For besides that they all dwell together in companies, … Continue reading

Essenism and Buddhism–Pt. 2

By M. André Dupont-Sommer [In: Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles- Lettres, 124e année, N. 4, 1980. pp. 698-715.] Abridged and translated from the French by René Salm For footnotes, please see the original PDF. Part 2 [705] Let us now consider the famous Emperor Ashoka, who lived in the third century before the common era. King over Magadha, he was in fact emperor of the entire Indian subcontinent with the exception of its southern tip. Ashoka’s grand father Sandragupta (known by the Greek as Sandracottos) founded the Maurya dynasty and was the contemporary of Alexander the Great. Ashoka was consecrated in the year 260 BCE and he soon conquered Kalinga, a vast province of the … Continue reading

Essenism and Buddhism–Pt. 1

I am indebted to Mr. Klaus Schilling for bringing to my attention a 1980 article by the French scholar, A. Dupont-Sommer, on the influence of Buddhism on Essenism. This article is included here as part of the ongoing discussion—promoted by the late Dr. H. Detering and by myself—concerning Buddhist influence on early Christianity. While that discussion has taken place for over a century in the perennial subfield known as “comparative religion” (see, e.g., Roy C. Amore), it has yet to be taken seriously in the more entrenched domains of Christian scholarship on the one hand, and Buddhist scholarship on the other. Here, however, we begin to tread old and forgotten pathways that ultimately link Christianity up with Buddhism. Readers familiar … Continue reading

The Hermann Detering Legacy/6—Curriculum Vitae 2017–18

The final years Detering and music   No account of Dr. Detering’s legacy is complete without mentioning his deep interest in the music of J. S. Bach. Detering considered Bach “the fifth evangelist”–and this was not simply hyperbole. Being a musician myself (who also esteems Bach most highly), Hermann’s devotion to Bach provided another link between him and myself–in addition to our work in early Christian studies and Jesus mythicism. These three links enabled the two of us forge and maintain a working relationship and long-distance friendship, one strong enough to reach across the Atlantic despite the fact that we never actually met. Until I undertook this recent review of Dr. Detering’s legacy, however, I had no idea of the … Continue reading