The “Christ”

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 10 The preceding post ended as follows: We can imagine the scene, say, in the gnostic Christian congregation of Philippi, ca. 150 CE. The Reader or First Servant stands before the congregation and says solemnly: “My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus: there is great news! Even as some of us suspected, the full power of God entered into a man about one hundred years ago. I have his story here, and it has just arrived. Let us say a communal prayer of blessing, and then I will read to you The Good News According to Markus.” Stunned, wide-eyed silence. The communal prayer was intoned. And then the First Servant proceeded to read The … Continue reading

The birth of Catholic Christianity

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 9 Pre-Catholic Christianity If we could go back nineteen hundred years, to the year 122 CE, we would find no Christians at all—no one whom we would today call a ‘Christian.’ Yet Jesus followers were around, lots of them. But not one of them believed in Jesus of Nazareth—for that figure had not yet been invented. The first century religion of Jesus was much different from the religion that we would recognize today. The many Jesus followers who existed before the mid-second century CE were what we would call ‘gnostics’ and ‘heretics.’ They believed in a savior (in semitic savior is ‘Jesus,’ yeshua), but their savior was an invisible and completely ineffable entity—a clarity … Continue reading

The late second century and Paul

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 8 In the preceding post I introduced some evidence that Christianity in fact predated the turn of the era—such as that Philo (fl c. 20 CE) knew ‘Christian’ sectarians including the Sethians and Ophites, that his description of the Therapeutae was of an early Buddhist-Christian group on the outskirts of Alexandria, that ‘Apollos’ in the Acts of the Apostles already knew ‘Jesus’ but not ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ etc. In this post I jump forward to the late second century CE—just when the New Testament canon was being formulated. The prevalent form of christology was still ‘Jesus is the indwelling spirit of God’s wisdom’—a christology that I have termed Stage II. I briefly discussed the … Continue reading

Christians before the turn of the era

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 7 Birger Pearson I mentioned in a prior post that the thief always leaves clues. Detectives count on that. It might be a fingerprint, a stray hair that can be genetically analyzed, a tip from a casual passerby… Every crime is different, and every crime leaves clues—if one simply looks long enough. The thief himself often provides clues. It is said that one lie requires another lie to cover up the first. The second lie requires yet another, and eventually the lier is caught up in a web of contradictions. With a really big crime—something involving many people, several generations (!), and a lot of coordination—there will be many contradictions. Picture Colombo stroking his … Continue reading

The obliteration of Gnosticism from early Christian history (cont.)

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 6 “At Alexandria [before c. 200 CE] it was hard to differentiate between gnostic and Christian doctrines…” The statement dates to 1986 and is by Robert M. Grant (d. 2014), the ‘dean’ of Early Christian History for a whole generation. Grant’s distinction between “gnostic” and “Christian” doctrines has been, and still is, typical of the field—and so wrong! By and large, the Gnostics considered themselves the true Christians: …There is much evidence to show that in the Roman Empire, at least, the Manichaeans considered themselves to be Christians, nay, the true Christians, while they condemned the Catholics for “judaizing,” and hence for being unfaithful to the true doctrine of Christ.     [G. Stroumsa, in: The Roots … Continue reading

The obliteration of Gnosticism from early Christian history

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 5 The chronology of Christian origins being developed on this website places the appearance of the canonical gospels in the 140s CE, the canonization of the NT c. 200 CE, and the final Christianization of the Roman Empire in early IV CE. Those are three late highpoints. Christian chronology, for me, begins before the turn of the era—with the life and ministry of Yeshu ha-Nostri (c. 100–c. 67 BCE). According to this extended chronology a full two hundred years transpired between the crucifixion of Yeshu and the appearance of the canonical gospels. That’s a long time and plenty could (and did) happen in those centuries. The Church Fathers—who suddenly begin writing in mid-II CE—witness … Continue reading

The second century: from the spiritual Jesus to the canonization of the New Testament

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 4 Orthodoxy developed gradually While it is easy to show that many pre-200 CE Christian works (Shepherd of Hermas, Ad Autolycum, Didache, etc.) make no mention of the virgin birth, walking on water, etc., Christian literature reveals a clear increase in the ‘superman’ traits that will eventually coalesce into Jesus of Nazareth. The Savior (‘Jesus’) of the World—an entirely spiritual entity in the first century CE—slowly takes on flesh as the second century progresses—the flesh of an increasingly exalted being. The canonical gospels appearing towards mid-century were not anomalies. They did not suddenly emerge out of nowhere but belong to a stream of orthodox anti-gnostic literature that was gathering impetus for some time. The … Continue reading

150–200 CE: A ‘watch and wait’ period in early Christian history

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 3 In a recent comment, Albert Wubs kindly brought to my attention a work entitled Ad Autolycum, the only surviving writing (in three ‘books’) by Theophilus of Antioch, a Christian bishop in the latter half of the second century CE. The Greek text and English translation, edited by the late Robert M. Grant, are available via PDF download here. The problem Wubs correctly notes that “any reference to the name ‘Christ’ is totally absent. Maybe Theophilus also knew a ‘Christianity’ without Christ.” This is interesting, for Ad Autolycum (composed c. 185 CE) seems to know the canonical gospels—it names “John” as one of “the sacred scriptures” (and includes two verbatim quotations from the Johannine … Continue reading

John the Baptist in Josephus—Pt. 2

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 2 The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus (continued) Arguments for inauthenticity By his own admission, Kirby’s points are indecisive as regards the authenticity or inauthenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus (Ant. 18.116-119; Whiston’s chapter 18.5.2). In this latter half of his article he argues mainly against Frank Zindler (The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 88–99), who raised a number of points against authenticity. Kirby also argues against Robert Price, citing rebuttals by Maurice Casey (d. 2014). This is revealing, for Casey believed “that the documents on Jesus of greatest historical value are the Gospel of Mark and the Pauline epistles.” Right. The Pauline epistles have next to nothing … Continue reading

John the Baptist in Josephus—Pt. 1

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 1 A certain “Peter” recently commented on a post on this website where I make the claim that, at an early stage in Christian history, John = Jesus (lit. “Savior”). In his comment Peter poses several questions, including whether I maintain “that the Josephus story of John the Baptist is inauthentic, considering among other factors the time frame with Herod Antipas, contra the article by Peter Kirby?” The passage in question is Ant. 18.116-119 (Whiston’s chapter 18.5.2). For now I leave aside whether or not the commenter is himself Peter Kirby. The article referenced is a very long one by Kirby entitled “The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus,” uploaded May 21, 2015. … Continue reading