An experiment: The original Gospel of Mark?—Chp. 5

As noted in the Introduction, two texts of the relevant chapter in the Gospel of Mark are presented here. The first is a short, hypothetical “core”—the first draft of an UrMark reconstructed according to the criteria below. At the bottom of this post is the entire Chapter 5 in the RSV English translation. Both the short and the longer forms of the chapter are color coded. In order to separate out later Catholic accretions from the earlier Jewish Christian “core,” I have employed the following criteria: The criteria used for color coding are discussed here. The resultant color coding is as follows: [Contained in the Hebrew Gospel / UrMark] Green: Possible/probable, or amended in UrMark. STAGE 1: Gnostic. To c. … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 4

Outside the familiar terrain of twenty-seven New Testament books lies a vast, virtually unexplored expanse of so-called “apocryphal literature.” The word apocrypha derives from Greek and literally means “from [that which is] hidden” (apo+crypto). Well, let me say up front: the only reason most of this literature is hidden is because the Catholic Church has done everything it could to hide it. In short, these texts contain what is threatening to the Church—what it doesn’t want you to read. The Church’s suppression of the apocryphal literature was pretty successful during the fifteen or so long centuries when European scholarship was either conducted by the Church or approved by it. Increasingly, however, secular modern scholarship has broken the Church’s monopoly on … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 3

The spiritual Jesus At an early stage of Christianity, according to the foregoing analysis, Jesus was a spiritual entity. This was a pre-canonical stage, to be dated to the first century CE—before the invention of Jesus the Nazarene and before the writing of the canonical gospels. The spiritual Jesus is evident, for example, in the epistles of Paul, works that do not know Jesus the Nazarene (“Nazarene” or “Nazareth” do not occur even once in the Pauline epistles). As I wrote in NazarethGate (p. 409):           Paul enthuses in his epistles about the spiritual entity he calls singly and severally the “Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Christ.” The entity grants grace, peace, comfort, authority (2 Cor 10:8), will slay the “lawless one” at … Continue reading

Part 3—A revolution in the Synoptic Problem

[Note: This post has been substantially updated.] The so-called Synoptic Problem can be defined as the search for the literary and redactional relationship between the three (obviously) extensively related “synoptic” gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Majority opinion has long favored the “two source theory”: Matthew and Luke primarily drew on Mark, and they also drew on a saying source not available to Mark known as “Q” (German abbreviation for Quelle, “source”). However, ongoing disagreements among New Testament scholars show that the two source theory is not satisfactory to many. Perhaps the biggest sticking point is that the Q source is entirely hypothetical. Despite a veritable library that has now been written about it (e.g., see John Kloppenborg’s massive works), Q is … 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

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 1

I recently finished an excellent book by Tom Dykstra, a virtually unknown American writer whose work deserves a careful read by those interested in Christian origins. The title, Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel (OCABS PRESS, 2012) won’t raise many eyebrows. After all, no one questions that the Gospel of Mark postdates Paul. And most would also agree that Markan theology and Pauline theology are in virtual lock-step: salvation comes through belief that we have been saved by the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. That is the so-called Pauline kerygma. Stated baldly, salvation comes through belief (in salvation). Christianity has managed to flourish for two thousand years based on this circular proposition. … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 6

Priests vs. Levites   We concluded the last section with an observation of Ellis Rivkin: “We must, therefore, conclude that the Aaronides come to power with the finalized Pentateuch and, as such, are their own creation” (IDB). The priestly Aaronides, centered in Jerusalem, are the post-exilic religious hegemonists who took authority away from the pre- and concurrently-existing (gnostic) Levites. By “their own creation,” Rivkin means that the Aaronides invented their own pedigree, invented their status as Levites (for Aaron was supposedly himself a Levite), and in this way they took over from the ancient and ʻtrueʼ Levites the rights to administer the Temple. Essentially, they arrogated to themselves the religion which became known as “Judaism.” With the rise of the … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 4

Ephrathah and ʻcrossing overʼ   In Jewish scripture, Bethlehem is sometimes equated with Ephrath/Ephrathah (Gen 35:19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11; Mic 5:2). Elsewhere, the latter is the “father” of Bethlehem (1 Chr 4:4). Both ʻplacesʼ were not material settlements in Judah, Benjamin, or Ephraim, but mythical locales in pre-Israelite religion. Beit-Lahmu (Bethlehem) was the home of the Lahmu divinities, servants of the great god of hidden wisdom who guarded the ʻgateʼ of his house. Hidden wisdom (gnosis) had long been symbolized by fresh water emerging from within and under the earth. Thus, it is no surprise that the Bethlehem known to Jewish scribes was noted for a well with special water sought out by David himself, as already cited (2 Sam … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 3

David, Bethlehem, and the scribes   To this day, archaeologists cannot be certain where the settlement of Bethlehem was located. The scribes who penned the Jewish scriptures were also in doubt, for in several cases they found it necessary to identify Bethlehem with another unlocated settlement called Ephrath/Ephrathah: “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachelʼs tomb, which is there to this day” (Gen 35:19–20; cf. 48:7). However, Jewish scripture clearly locates Rachelʼs tomb to the north of Jerusalem (1 Sam 10:2; Jer 31:15). This anomaly has long caused both Jewish and Christian scholars a good deal of … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 2

Noah, the first Natsarene?   The flood was a divine judgment upon all mankind, one which came suddenly. But god gave Noah secret knowledge in advance: to build an ark. The ark itself represents and symbolizes the secret saving knowledge of god. After all, it was the ark that saved Noah. Thus it is no surprise that in the Akkadian flood story the boat is named natsirat napishtim, “Preserver of Life,” a phrase employing the root n-ts-r.6 It should also not surprise us that netsêru in Akkadian means “secret knowledge,” particularly that received from the moon god Ea/Enki (the god of the underword ocean).7 In the flood story, secret knowledge protects the wise person against that which destroys the entire … Continue reading