A note on the Toldoth Yeshu

A New Account of Christian Origins / pt. 21 I have been studying the Toldoth Yeshu (Hebrew: “Generations of Yeshu”) for several weeks in the hope that this unusual work might shed some light on Christian origins. However, I have been disappointed and conclude that the TY is a rather poorly-written, scurrilous, and late anti-gospel composed, I suspect, by a disenchanted rabbi in distant Babylonia. Here is some of what the insightful Robert M. Price writes concerning the work: The Toledoth Jeshu (Generations of Jesus) is the title of several variants of an anti-gospel text portraying Jesus as a false prophet and magician… The wide distribution of various language versions and manuscript fragments, together with the numerous parallels with second-century Jewish-Christian polemic … Continue reading

Nazareth, Capernaum, and Tabor

The issue of Jesus’ hometown in early Christian literature is revealing. In the Gospel of Marcion (Mcn) the hometown of Jesus is Capernaum, as it is also in the Gospel of Mark. “Nazara” is only briefly mentioned in Mcn (corresponding to Lk 4:16–30). But the place does not really fit Marcion’s gospel, which locates Jesus in Capernaum both before and after a brief ‘visit’ to Nazara. Now, we know from the Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi) that in gnostic tradition Nazara meant “truth” (GPh 62). This interpretation fits the earlier spirit-Jesus christology, but not the new theios aner Jesus of Marcion, for which Jesus also requires a physical ‘hometown.’ Marcion’s gospel thus was apparently trying to fuse two different christologies … 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

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), while Bethlehem lies to the south of the city. This anomaly has long caused … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 2

Noah, the first Natsarene?   The flood was a divine judgment upon all mankind, one that 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 underworld ocean).7 In the flood story, secret knowledge protects the wise person against that which destroys the entire … Continue reading

The Natsarene and Hidden Gnosis – Pt. 1 (Salm)

Foreword I wrote this 6-part essay in 2011, to be read in conjunction with Ditlef Nielsen’s groundbreaking and long forgotten book The Old Arabian Moon Religion and the Mosaic Tradition (1904). The original essay is available complete in PDF form here. The first five chapters of Nielsen’s book (in my translation from the German) are available in a series of PDF’s here. To get the most out of this essay, the reader is urged to also read Nielsen’s writing, which explores a number of still novel themes that are foundational to the origins of Christianity—such as: the influence of North Arabian religion on early Israelite origins, and in turn on Christianity; the gnostic nature of the religion of Midian, where … 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. 6

In the fourth post of this series I looked at the Parable of the Ten Maidens (Mt 25:1-13) and concluded that it was an allegory—certainly not the ipsissima verba from the mouth of the human prophet who lies at the origins of Christianity. The incipient Great Church needed to erase that flesh and blood prophet to make room for its invented and grandiose “Jesus of Nazareth.” It needed to do this because the gnostic doctrine of the “Nazarene” (Natsarene) prophet was diametrically opposed to its doctrine of faith that lay at the heart of the new Pauline kerygma (“proclamation”). Erasing the prophet from history was a fairly easy task, for that prophet has—as we can see—left few if any traces. … Continue reading