Friday, October 31, 2008

Continuing the exchange...

This is my second response to James. His words are in italics.

I'd like to point out an irony. Your approach to the historical evidence is to ask "But couldn't this have been made up?" rather than to ask what conclusions most naturally from the evidence.

That is not my approach. I said once before on your blog: If the Jesus-myth theory is to succeed it must explain the evidence better than historicism. I am not yet completely sure if it does that, which is the reason I wanted to discuss this with you. I am open to anything you may point out which sinks the mythicist position.

[I]f you claim that the earliest Christians did not believe that Jesus was a historical flesh-and-blood individual, then how could he have had a brother who was the leader of Jewish Christianity and connected with Paul's opponents?

Please allow me to give you a quote from Origen:

250 CE. Origen Contra Cels. lib. i. p. 35, 36.

"Now this James was he whom that genuine disciple of Jesus, Paul, said he had seen as the Lord’s brother; [Gal. i. 19.] which relation implies not so much nearness of blood, or the sameness of education, as it does the agreement of manners and preaching. If therefore he says the desolation of Jerusalem befell the Jews for the sake of James, with how much greater reason might he have said, that it happened for the sake of Jesus."

Although by this point I think the Christians had taken to believing in a historical Jesus, I think this is a vestige of the belief in a cosmic christ (they had passed down the knowledge that James was only a spiritual brother of Christ). I must also point out that Paul simply calls James "the Lord's brother", not "Jesus' brother", which I think is more naturally interpreted as a spiritual relationship.

Second, why would Christians claim (or more accurately acknowledge with some reluctance) that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist? Is the latter merely a mythical figure from the heavenly realm too?

No, I happen to be quite convinced that John the Baptist existed.

To get to the point: I don't understand what would make you think that Christians were reluctant to accept Jesus' baptism. It is in the earliest gospel Mark, so it is practically advertised. This would have been written many years after John's death, so I don't understand why anyone would be cornering the Christians into admitting this. In fact, was there anyone cornering them into admitting it? Secondly, what is the signifigance of baptism? Remission of sins, of course. According to the gospels, Jesus did not sin, and so it baffles me to think why this was recorded. Was it supposed to be an example for what the Christians were to do? That's what I suspect. Of course, you could say that it fulfills the criteria of embarassment (why would Jesus do it if he hadn't sinned). Then again, why would the Christians record it unless there was a good reason, such as to set an example for Christians?

By the way, I just wanted to link to an article on the gospels as allegorical fiction. It is very interesting and represents my views well.


James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation. I'll just make two points. First, by the third century the belief that Mary had perpetually remained a virgin had developped, and that is why Christians in later eras tried to explain away the plain meaning of the references to Jesus' siblings.

The point about the baptism is precisely the one you made: not only is Jesus undergoing a baptism of repentance, but it could also be understood to indicate that he is becoming a disciple of John the baptist's. One must, of course, explain why Mark wrote about it if it made him uncomfortable, but the way most historians argue is that he recorded it because it was well known to have happened - there is no reason why he would make it up that could provide sufficient motive for implying Jesus was a sinner and a disciple of John's.

AIGBusted said...

Hi James,

I think the fact that James is called the "brother of the Lord" along with the fact that Paul does not speak of an earthly Jesus** means that the relationship was spiritual.

As for the baptism: Why would Mark have felt compelled to mention it? And why couldn't it be interpreted as Jesus setting an example for what the Christians were supposed to practice (this is the way my former church always interpreted it)?

** On Paul never speaking of an earthly Jesus: There are a handful of passages often pointed to to indicate that Paul did believe in an earthly Jesus, but they are more naturally interpreted as spiritual once we look at the context. Let me give you some quotes from Rook Hawkins of the Rational Response Squad:

“So we also, when we were children, were held in slavery under the elemental spirits of the cosmos. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, "Abba, Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” – Paul, Galatians 4:3-7

Those out to verify the historical Jesus are quick to jump on this verse without considering what Paul is actually saying here. This verse is taken for granted, presupposed to be about a person which Paul never knew. For Jesus was not born at all but made (genomenon), specifically, under the law. What is the law? Paul actually tells us what “the law” (tou nomou) means. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator (mesitou).” (Gal. 3:19) Paul clarifies for us, “For we know that the law (ho nomos) is spiritual (pneumatikos), but I am of the flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14) To Paul, what comes from the flesh is corruption and sinful. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom. 7:18) The law is the spiritual custodian (ephrouroumetha) of the flesh, a teacher by which Paul feels leads one to life. It is through this custodian, the spirit, per Paul, that we are also saved. There is also an underlining allegory to this passage that most scholars seem to ignore.[28] Do those who want to understand Paul so easily forget the allegory of the two women, Sarah and Hagar, for which we are all a part of?[29] This chapter (Galatians 4) is not about Jesus at all. It is entirely about the law and how to be saved under the law.[30]

“Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don't you listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. However, the son by the handmaid was made according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was made through promise. These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, "Rejoice, you barren who don't bear. Break forth and shout, you that don't travail. For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband." Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. However what does the Scripture say? "Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman." So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman.” – Paul, Galatians 4:21-31

The context is very important. Jesus is made under the law—the spiritual custodian—by a “woman” or specifically, “the Jerusalem above” (hê de anô Ierousalêm), which also happens to allegorically be the mother to everyone. Not everyone in a worldly sense, Paul makes this clear, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16) But Paul was speaking specifically to everyone who is adopted into the death of Jesus Christ, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15) And here the understanding of the parable comes back around. We die, the same way Jesus dies. We call out to our father, allegorically, as we become kin with Jesus through the spirit. But through this death we are saved, from the flesh which is corrupt, through a rebirth. This rebirth is of this allegorical woman in the same way that Paul’s Jesus is born through the same allegorical woman. Indirectly we, like Jesus, are born again spiritually by way of the heavens, or directly, by God.

This is also made explicit in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes that God sent Jesus to fulfill the prophecies “concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Immediately following this verse, Paul states that we can also be called “to belong to Jesus Christ.” It’s more allegory. I’d like to call attention to the formalistic style in which Paul is using. Paul does not say, “from the womb of Mary” or “from the seed of Joseph”. Paul does not once mention the names of Jesus’ parents. Instead, he utilizes this allegorical language. David was not the father of Jesus. But, that is a testament to the parable of Paul’s savior. David is representative of Israel. Once more, Jesus is not the subject of the chapter, but salvation for the Israelites is. Paul is in Rome,[31] he writes why; “So, as much as is in me, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16) For Paul, his goal is the salvation of everyone, but specifically his intent is to show the promise of God fulfilled. Paul, shortly after making his intentions clear, goes on about this very issue for the rest of the chapter, talking about the wickedness of Israel in the past, and how God gave the wicked up to their “dishonorable passions” (pathê atimias). The works of man are irrelevant to the Grace of God. He cements this into his discussion of circumcision, which again is allegory. Circumcision is representative of the law, and those who follow the law, where as those who are uncircumcised—the Greek who does not follow the law—but still have faith are no different. The tie in with the seed of David is that Jesus, to Paul, reveals himself to all men, just as David counts men righteous who do not follow the law.

“Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, Whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.’ Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” – Paul, Romans 4:9

To Paul, the seed of David is likened to the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel, who are deemed righteous by their faith, not through works of the laws. “For the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he should be heir of the world wasn't through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13) Paul explains further the salvation of Israel, while making it clear that there is a “partial hardening” (pôrôsis apo merous) upon the sons of Israel, “And in this way all Israel will be saved”. According to Paul, this salvation will occur when there is a specific amount of Greeks who are also saved. (Rom. 11:25-26) Paul speaks this mystery (mustêrion)[32] to his brethren because he seeks to “somehow…make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them”.[33] (ibid.) He again relates this back to the patriarchs and the prophets. God is attempting to save a remnant of Israelites, those who have faith and are deemed worthy through grace. He brings up the passage in which Isaiah begs God to destroy Israel for their wickedness. God, recognizing the wickedness of the Jews well in advance, allows for seven thousand Israelites who did not “knee to Baal.” (Rom. 11:6) Paul sums up this allegory, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect (eklogê) obtained it, but the rest were hardened”. (Rom. 11:7) Bringing this allegorical interpretation of scripture back around, to “belong to Christ” you must become a seed of David, by specifically identifying your faith in God through Christ. This is accomplished through understanding the mysteries Paul teaches, and by becoming one of the mature (teleiois).

AIGBusted said...

Hi James:

On the question of Jesus' Baptism, let me see if I have this right:

Your contention is that Mark only recorded this because it was a widely known event and Mark felt compelled to report it (for the sake of his reputation or because he feared enemy attestations against his honesty). Let's take this argument and run with it:

P1 Mark felt compelled to report this event because many people witnessed it.

P2 It follows that the voice from heaven ("You are my son...") was also witnessed by many people (If Mark could not get away with omitting the story of Jesus' baptism, he could surely not get away with this!).

P3 If Mark is telling the truth here, it follows that the gospels are true and that Jesus was the Son of God.

P4 But if Jesus was the Son of God, he should not have needed to be baptized, since he had no sin.

P5 The only way out of this contradiction is to conjecture that either Jesus was simply setting an example or that this had some symbolic meaning to the early Christians which is lost to us.

Conclusion: If the above is the case, then Jesus' baptism fails to satisfy the principal of embarassment.