The Hebrew Gospel—Pt. 5

We have seen that the Jesus-as-spirit view preceded the Jesus-as-flesh-and-blood view. By Late Roman times, however, a text that represented that earlier christology would have been absolutely anathema—completely off the table of discourse. Yet, the Jesus-as-spirit view is precisely the christology presented in the Hebrew Gospel, a text that J. Edwards dates before the synoptic gospels. Thus Jerome: For since the apostles considered [Jesus] to be a spirit or, according to the gospel which is of the Hebrews and is read by the Nazoraeans, a demon without a body, he said to them… (Edwards 284.) This interesting citation suggests several things: (1) the Hebrew Gospel endorsed the Jesus-as-spirit christology, something Jerome seems to view (with disparagement, no doubt) as “a … 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

Part 2—Paul moves to the second century CE

Powerful headwinds… One has to wonder how it is that, after literally centuries of research, the field of ‘biblical studies’ (encompassing the Jewish scriptures as well as the New Testament) still presents an opaque mass of mutually contradictory conclusions—and, indeed, no universally held conclusions at all! Whenever a promising breakthrough appears—or merely threatens to appear—a chorus of denials predictably rises from the entrenched institutions among us (church, synagogue, and academy) to return to the status quo ante. The correct inference to be drawn is not that (1) people are stupid, (2) researchers are blind, or (3) information is hidden (though a little of all three is probably true), but that in the field of religious studies change is intolerable. Inertia … Continue reading

Part 1—“Paul,” the improbable phantom

While Jesus mythicists have been focusing on the (a)historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, a related scholarly war has been raging behind the scenes, as it were: the (a)historicity of Paul of Tarsus—or, more precisely, the inauthenticity of his epistles. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the two issues are intimately linked. After all, if the Pauline epistles are inauthentic, then what basis remains to posit the historicity of their author? Other than the epistles, all that’s really left regarding the historical Paul is the notoriously contrived text known to us as the Acts of the Apostles. Of the thirteen letters ascribed to Paul in the New Testament (the Letter to the Hebrews is “anonymous”), six are considered even by … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 4

Deception and power      Dykstra writes that the canonical gospels are “scriptural historiography… The narrative is anchored to known historical facts, it is written to achieve a practical political or religious purpose, and in the furtherance of that purpose the author is free to invent whatever does not unreasonably transgress the bounds of plausibility” (p. 198). Dykstra then flat-out states that the evangelist is “compelled to invent whatever is necessary to achieve his purpose.” Well, that about sums up the situation: the evangelists invented what suited their purposes and that they could get away with (which is another way of saying: “whatever does not unreasonably transgress the bounds of plausibility”).      The closest contemporary genre to the above is probably what we … 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 pre-canonical religion: 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

Thomas Brodie, mythicist priest:
Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus—Pt. 3

(Published Easter Sunday) On this Easter Sunday, ‘year of our Lord’ 2013, we may note that Father Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus offers the world a closely reasoned analysis showing that “Jesus of Nazareth” is a fiction, a literary construct cunningly based on Jewish scripture. Brodie has done nothing less than deconstruct normative Christianity based on literary source criticism. Of course, Thomas Brodie is no Johnny come lately, no dillettante, no wild-eyed hater of Christianity… He is both a Dominican priest and a distinguished bible scholar with an extensive resumé of published work going back many decades. Throughout his academic career, Brodie’s specialization has been literary source criticism. In this domain, he is the expert. Brodie … Continue reading

Thomas Brodie, mythicist priest:
Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus—Pt. 2

Though himself a priest, Brodie is alive to the faults of the Church. He writes: [F]or many, the message about Jesus Christ is mired beneath layers of pain and anger, because, regardless of how you interpret the Christian vision, history is strewn with sickness, accidents and disasters; and the religious institution or its representatives have done harm: crusades; inquisitions; imperious use of authority; involvement with brutal regimes and conquests; mistreatment of people, of peoples, of women, of children, and of those who are different in some way; unduly black-and-white rulings on wrenching moral and medical issues; cover-ups; and thousands of diverse kinds of offenses committed by members and ministers of the church. How could anyone believe the message given by … Continue reading